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Friday, February 28, 2014

Review: GAMERA (1965)

Here we go.  Our trek down the big list of kaiju/tokusatsu films has brought us to that other franchise, Gamera.  The first film is up now, Gamera (1965).

James goes first:
Well,I thought it was great movie! 
Gamera is about when a team of people go to Alaska and planes start bombing the place and they find a cave with Gamera in it.  And a kid thinks Gamera is his friend so throughout the movie, the kid literally tries to kill himself just to get to Gamera!  It's so stupid, it's funny!  
So, I will give Gamera 5.0 Atomic Breaths of Awesomeness!
My turn:
Ah, Gamera.  The very notion of the flying turtle makes me smile, if only because of its association with Mystery Science Theater 3000 (see below).  For the purposes of this review, I'll try to divorce the movie in my mind from the treatment of it at the hands of Joel and the 'bots. 
Daiei's attempt to jump on the monster bandwagon in the 1960s, Gamera starts off well enough.  It's in black-and-white, which gives it gravitas, unintentionally; not unlike 1954's Gojira.  And given the opening scenes, it's easy to think maybe this movie will have a message, too. 
Well, not so much. 
This monster is a prehistoric creature and not one created by mankind's hubris/errors.  It was awakened, however, by one of those mistakes.  A Soviet (we think) bomber was shot down by Americans in the Arctic.  Somehow, the plane's atomic payload became armed and detonated on impact with the ice.  Thus awakening and freeing Gamera. 
Here we come to one of the flaws of the film: the actors.  This is on full display in the scenes with the American radar installation and General Curly Joe De Rita.  (Sorry, I said I was going to leave MST3K behind.)  He's a horrible actor.  As are the others around him.  The script is partially to blame, too.  For whatever reason, one line in particular, spoken by a subordinate, cracks me up: "Looks like a huge turtle made its appearance." 
The Japanese actors aren't much better.  It's hard to be sure, since I can't speak the language and all.  But the reporter guy, in particular, seems bad.  Just a hunch.  And the scientist with the finger weave ... That's a distracting hairstyle. 
The effects are good enough for the era ... Gamera looks about as good as he ever will for these Shōwa films.  The attack on Tokyo looks good and Tokyo Tower goes down again (the second time in these movies).  I enjoy the late '60s films with the partying teens who reap death from their hullabaloo.   
Plotwise, there are a few failings.  First off, the obviously mentally disturbed Kenny (or Kenichi).  He's a focal point of the film and he just clearly needs help.  Seriously.  Take him to a doctor.  Once you get over your sympathy for him, he's just an annoying brat who manages to nearly die at every turn. 
Secondly, there's little attempt ... beyond Gamera's awakening ... to make this movie mean anything.  Gojira, of course, started that franchise off with menace that we could only blame ourselves for.  Not so here.  Gamera's a prehistoric monster who likes to eat fire.  Maybe just fire from petroleum products, but that's unclear.   
Third, the finale.  Holy crap.  Everything seems pretty grounded ...  well, I know.  A giant monster is attacking cities and I'm saying the movie seemed grounded in a reality for a while.  It's true, though.  But the solution goes beyond ridiculous.  Out of nowhere, we find out that Japan (with international help) has constructed a huge underground space program and launch facility along with a massive rocket.  What is the rocket for?  To encapsulate Gamera and launch him to Mars. 
Think about that.  Gamera is about 90 meters tall.  Using the blue whale (30 meters long) as a guide, Gamera would weigh about 600 tons.  Yes, I know Gamera's wider and all, so let's take it up to 700 tons and leave it there for the sake of argument.  NASA's cancelled Ares rocket program, which was designed to take payloads to Mars, could carry 28 tons.  That means Gamera would need 25 Ares rockets. 
I know that by calculating this I'm truly overthinking it, and therefore I've stepped into the realm of ridiculousness, too.  But c'mon.  I can only suspend disbelief so much.  
Gamera ... until Z Plan (or Plan Z), it was good.  3.5 out of five atomic breath blasts.
Here's a great compilation of MST3K moments:

Here's the trailer:

Up next, Ebirah, Monster of the Deep.

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