“Gamera: Guardian of the Universe” grabbed plenty of attention in the US, even if it went directly to video. Highly respected major film critic Roger Ebert gave it a nod (and thumbs up) on his weekly show. In Japan it played even better. Daiei studios revived monster makes his second awesome appearance (in what would become a trilogy) in “Gamera 2: Attack of Legion.”
Strange atmospheric events in Japan have the scientific community baffled after a meteor crashes into the Earth’s crust. It is soon discovered that small, crab-like creatures have been slowly devouring specific things like glass, electronic equipment, and fiber optic cable. Gamera senses danger after these “Legion” plant seeds that would make the atmosphere more livable for themselves. Little does anyone know that the real threat is will soon be revealed.
This is, almost without question, an odd film to judge. No, it has nothing to do with the subject matter (even if that may matter to some close-minded people). It’s that for the most part, it’s not really a giant monster movie at all. Most of the film is made up of either the human characters discussing what they’re dealing with or the smaller form of the Legion.
It’s still quite gripping, with well-conceived scenes of tension. The eerie design of the creatures, with a single eyeball and plenty of razor-sharp legs, only makes things even more frightening. Aside from the fact these creatures come from space, their purpose is unique, interesting, and makes those occasionally drawn out character scenes go by a bit quicker.
Of course, you have to know it’s all building to something. Once Gamera finally meets his foe(s), you’re treated to the most visually stunning sequences this genre has ever scene. The sight of the smaller Legion attaching themselves to Gamera (save for a deplorable CG shot that should have been cut) is a masterpiece. The miniatures and pyrotechnic work is easily on par (in some cases better than) with the original giving the film a sense of realism you normally wouldn’t associate with the genre.
Issues do arise, some which keep the film in line with the original (that’s not necessarily a bad thing), just barely missing the opportunity to eclipse it. All that time spent with the human characters seems wasted. You never really know much about them, and one of the main stars, Ayako Fujitani, doesn’t even come into play until 40-minutes in the movie. The ending also seems awfully contrived, almost like the writers had not other way to finish it. It goes unexplained, falling victim to the rule of thumb that if you can believe in a giant fire-breathing flying turtle, you can accept everything else they throw out there.
Gamera would return once more, even darker and more violent. This film is the shifter, one that changes the tone in the series to get people ready for what’s coming down the pipe. Fans of this genre owe it to themselves to not only see this entry, but all three. It makes for a great trilogy, and “Legion” sits firmly in place as the centerpiece. (**** out of *****)
ADV once again delivers a pathetic transfer, though it is an improvement over the disastrous job they did on the original. The same major issue plagues this transfer, basically just black levels that never seem to stay in the proper tones. It’s more of a gray scale, one that shows all of the compression artifacts and grain right through it. You can adjust the brightness on your set and that’s the only way to avoid the murkiness. Colors are strong, but blurred out by the softness of the transfer. It almost looks out of focus at times. (*)
Ditching the stereo mix of “Guardian of the Universe,” this disc adds in much needed 5.1 audio in either Japanese or English. Incredible separation lets the listeners know the location of each small Legion as they scurry about the sound field. The bass levels are just about right, though they do seem inconsistent at times. You’ll be prepared for something that should sound unbelievable, and instead get a whimper. The next scene will shake the walls. Dubbing is fair and surprisingly accurate. However, everyone should know that the original language is the way to go. (****)
Carried over from the first disc in this set, the second part of the interview with the director of special effects, Shinji Higuchi, continues. It’s not focused on this film per se, but the entire trilogy. Plenty of spoilers are contained, so only watch it if you’ve seen all three films. It’s all subtitled (as is most of the disc) with plenty of great information.
The press conference footage runs for a few minutes as the studio and actors discuss the plans for this film for the press. “Behind the Scenes in Japan” is once again disappointing with no monster footage at all. It contains no real audio. A cheap “Gamera” themed song runs over it. “Promotional Events” is great to watch even if that stupid song resets every time they move to a new location. All of this was shot on a basic home video camera with numerous close ups of props, suits, and more. Some really nice footage here, including a great look at some miniature work.
“Opening Night in Japan” has the actors and crew speaking before the very first screening to a receptive audience. You won’t learn much. Trailers and TV spots round off the normal set of features.
Unfortunately, ADV has decided to add two completely embarrassing features to this disc. The first is the inappropriately named “Outtakes” which simply has the dubbing actors trying to be funny. It’s the same three scenes over and over while failing to become amusing for a second. “Lake Texarkana Gamera” is one of the worst features to ever be put on a DVD. Again, it’s a re-dub, this time with “rednecks.” It tells the story of the movies using some key scenes. It never once becomes funny. (***)
If there are any movies out there to introduce an American audience to the kaiju-eiga genre, these should be it. They very well could have made a small profit on a theatrical release, simply going on word of mouth. Even if you can’t take the premise seriously, it’s hard to deny these remain plenty of fun.