• MST3K Vs. Gamera: Mystery Science Theater 3000, Vol. XXI

    Released by: Shout! Factory
    Released on: 8/2/2011
    Director: Various
    Cast: Various
    Year: Various
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    The Movies:

    Shout! Factory wisely packages together all five of Mystery Science Theater 3000's Gamera episodes, fan favorites all, into one handy-dandy package. Based off of the fullframe American versions released stateside by infamous film distributor Sandy Frank, these are widely considered some of the best episodes of the series’ entire run, all five taken from the third season which aired in 1991 and featured Joel Hodgson along with his robot sidekicks Tom Servo and Crow.

    So yeah, what are these movies all about anyway?

    Gamera (1965):

    When this classic black and white Japanese monster mash begins, we see the United States shoot down a Russian airplane over the Arctic sea. The plane's nuclear cargo goes down with it and the ensuing explosion awakens a giant space turtle named Gamera who had been in a deep sleep for untold years. Unfortunately for the citizens of Japan, Gamera wakes up on the wrong side of the bed and he decides to lay waste to the island nation by trashing buildings, breathing fire, and spinning around in a circle very quickly! The Japanese also soon learn that their weapons don't seem to have any chance of stopping this massive turtle - doom seems almost certain!
    Thankfully, Japan finds hope in the form of a scientist named Doctor Eiji Hidaka (Eiji Funakoshi) and his fellow scientist, Professor Murase (Jun Humamura) who deduces that, since their weapons cannot harm this beast and that they should try to capture him and halt his rampage. To do this, they hope to lure him into the head of a trap and send him hurtling into space - a plot which they dub Plan Z. Gamera, however, will not be as easy to capture as our heroes would hope, much to the chagrin of an obnoxious kid named Toshio (Yoshiro Uchida – Kenny in the Sandy Frank version, a topic of much heated debate between Joel and the robots!) who is really way too into turtles for his own good.

    While this isn't the best of the original run of Gamera films (he'd be brought back decades later for a new audience in a trilogy of films released in the 1990s) it deserves credit for introducing audiences to one of the most iconic of giant monsters. Like Godzilla before him, Gamera’s first film would be re-edited and dubbed into English (and quite poorly at that - if you've seen the MST3K skewering you'll know that it was completely deserved!) for American audiences but in its pure and uncut form (not included here), it proves to be a fairly dark film that, much like that other monster just mentioned, plays off of Cold War era fears of nuclear destruction. Obviously inspired by Toho's success, Daiei's Kaiju numero uno may owe a debt to the big green thunder lizard but would eventually go on to establish his own cool mythology and carve out his own deserved place in monster movie history and in MST3K lore.

    Gamera Vs. Barugon:

    Bigger, bolder, braver and brasher than the first black and white Gamera film, this first (of many) sequels, Gamera Vs. Barugon, is one of the best of the series and the first appearance of everyone's favorite giant flying space turtle to be shot in full color. When the film begins, Gamera has been freed from the Z Plan Capsule that we was trapped in at the end of the first film. He's not really too happy about what happened to him so he takes out his anger on a dam that he finds when he returns to Earth. Destruction on an epic scale ensues in a fantastic opening sequence and we're off and running.
    Meanwhile, miles and miles away, an expedition of explorer types obtain a magical opal hidden away deep in a cave in New Guinea which, when exposed to radiation, brings about the birth of the giant monster Barugon. Anyone who knows anything about giant monsters knows that they always wake up on the wrong side of bed and Barugon is no exception as he wastes no time in laying waste to a seaside installation and surrounding town leaving a trail of destroyed buildings and chaos in his path. From there, Barugon decides to use his ice breath to freeze a bunch of buildings and cities. When Gamera shows up, the monsters must battle it out but when Barugon freezes Gamera, it'll be up to some of our heroes from the New Guinea expedition - namely, Keisuke Hirata (Kojiro Honga - who would turn up in future installments in the series and also prove his monster movie metal by popping up in a Daimajin film) and Karen (Kyoko Enami) - to figure out how to send Barugon back to whence he came before the monster brings about a new ice age.

    Faster-paced than its predecessor and featuring considerably more monster on monster action and scenes of total destruction, Gamera Vs. Barugon is pretty great stuff. The first film hit it big at the box office and so more money and more studio resources were thrown at this sequel to ensure that lightning would in fact strike twice. It worked. The picture really benefits from the color photography and improved (and more plentiful) effects and miniature work. Barugon himself is a pretty creative beast, with a bizarre tongue that protrudes from his mouth and emits the aforementioned ice ray, not to mention his equally unusual penchant for shooting a rainbow laser out of his back. Gamera, as we already know, can spin really fast, fly, and shoot fire out of his mouth. The effects work on the film was handled by the director of the original film, Noriaki Yuasa, so they ‘fit' really well with what was established in the regard by the first film, while the directorial efforts on this second picture were handled by Shigeo Tanaka.

    Gamera vs. Gaos:

    The third film in the series is where Gamera really starts to get into his whole ‘protector of the children’ role – a move which in hindsight hurt the series but which was obviously done to compete with what was happening over in the Godzilla franchise around the same time.

    The story begins when a volcanic eruption frees a long dormant flying monster with a semi-triangular head who almost instantly heads out on a spree of mass destruction and carnage laying waste to large parts of Japan. Not so surprisingly, Gamera shows up to put a stop to this monster, named Gaos, and gets some help from a local kid or two along the way in terms of convincing the Japanese military to hold back and let him do his thing.

    More effects intensive than the two movies that came before it, Gamera Vs. Gaos is just as ropey as the other films in the series but it’s got some seriously high quality monster on monster action and plenty of surprisingly effective set pieces to make it stand out as one of the series’ best.

    Gamera vs. Guiron:

    Also know as Attack Of The Monsters, this movie begins when a mysterious unidentified flying object lands in a field outside of Tokyo. Two curious young boys, Akio (Nobuhiro Kajima) and Tom (Christopher Murphy), set out to check out the crash site and see what exactly happened. They enter the ship and wind up taking control of the ship and piloting it on a joyride of sorts. Unfortunately, most twelve year old boys suck at driving and these two are no exception - they crash the ship on a foreign planet where they see Gyaos doing battle with a creature with a giant knife for a head named Guiron. Making matters worse for our heroes is the presence of two semi-hot female aliens, Barbella and Flobella (who, in the Sandy Frank version, sound like they were dubbed by women from Arkansas), who intend to eat their brains, steal their spaceship, and head to Earth to make all kinds of trouble.

    What Gyaos, Barbella and Flobella don't count on is the fact that Gamera is on watch and he's not going to take any of their shit. He spins around really fast, breaths some space fire, and goes on an ass kicking rampage of epic proportions!

    Okay, ignore the obnoxious kids or pretend that you live in the perfect world where the alien chicks really would have eaten their brains and enjoy the plethora of rubber suited chaos that this movie offers up in spades. Sure, the plot is dopey and ropey (providing some of the best riff material in the five Gamera episodes) but what matters here are the battles and on that level this is a pretty great entry in the Gamera series - where else in the series are you going to see a strange creature with a knife-head use that knife-head to saw off his opponent's noggin? Nowhere! While the writers (the screenwriters, not the MST3K writers who are at the top of their game here) seem to have gone on vacation this time around, the effects technicians and monster suited powers that be have more than made up for that, stock footage inserts be damned.

    Gamera vs. Zigra:

    Made on a noticeably smaller budget than the Gamera movies that came before it, this film starts off when a giant space monster named Zigra lays waste to a moon base on his way to Japan where he intends to wreak havoc on Tokyo. At a theme park called Kamogawa Sea World, a kid named Kenichi (Yasushi Sakagami) and his friend Helen (Arlene Zoellner) live with their fathers, Dr. Yosuke Ishikawa (Isamu Saeki) and Dr. Tom Wallace (Koji Fujiyama), who are employed there as scientists. When Zigra lands in the ocean near where they live, the scientists rush out to investigate where they meet Woman X (Eiko Yanami), a stone cold fox who is basically Zigra’s mouth piece. They learn that the nefarious space monster instead to take over the planet and eat people.

    After Zigra causes an earthquake, the kids decide it’s up to them to stop the monster and so they get Gamera to help and a bunch of rad monster battles ensue.

    About as goofy a they come, Gamera Vs. Zigra was even more obviously intended for a children’s audience than some of the other films and director Noriaki Yuasa plays to what kids want out of a film – light action, lots of monsters and rubber suit stomp outs, corny comedic moments and heroes their own age who they can relate to. On that level, the movie works just fine and when watched with a few younger viewers around it becomes obvious that kids will have no problem enjoying this picture – but man is it dumb on so many levels and the MST3K commentators show the film no mercy. As far as adult viewers go, well, there are moments where the whole thing comes off as a glorified commercial for Kamogawa Sea World and it’s probably not a coincidence that the park is featured so prominently in the movie. The effects, however, are just as cool here as they are in Gamera movies past and if it feels toned down a bit, it’s still entertaining if you’re in the right mood for it.

    So with that out of the way, how does the Gamera world mesh with the MST3K world? Really well, actually. These films almost seem to be tailor made for the crew’s riffing styles and the five episodes that make up this set are, each and every one, a highlight of the series. As the guys point out in the extra features, it’s almost as if the Gamera films were made just for them to make fun of. There are so many dopey moments that there’s plenty of material here to jab, and the crew definitely make the most of it. They even do a good job of working bits from the movies into the skits that break up the commentaries, making them considerably funnier and more enjoyable than they usually are (in this writer’s opinion, those are typically the weakest parts of the show – just get on with the movie!).


    The fullframe interlaced transfers that grace this DVD set won't blow you away but they’re certainly watchable enough particularly when taken in the intended context. You will see the MST3K silhouettes in front of the screen (and occasionally interacting with the images!) so purists take note, and the transfer is taken from an old TV master so those expecting the movie to appear here as it was originally intended will be disappointed. That said, it looks as good here as it did on TV when it first aired and pristine video quality isn't really the point here. If you’ve seen MST3K before, you’ll know what to expect. The first film is in black and white, the follow up films all in color, but the skits in between viewing sessions are in color throughout and understandably and look a fair bit better than the movies themselves do.

    The commentaries come through nice and clear for each of the five episodes and there are no problems understanding the participants as they're balanced nicely against the audio from the movies. As far as the quality of that aspect is concerned, the tracks are on par with the transfers. They’re not great; in fact, there are times where it sounds a little shrill. Overall though the audio is perfectly serviceable and if you want the films in better presentations, well, Shout! Factory has the original Japanese cuts of the film’s available separately and this set isn’t really intended for that market anyway.

    In addition to the admittedly very bad-ass limited-edition tin box packaging, MST3K vs. Gamera includes a few featurettes of note sure to please fans. First up, on the Gamera disc, is the twenty three minute So Happy Together: A Look Back at MST3K And Gamera which features on screen interviews with Joel Hodgson, Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff, and Jim Mallon who explain how the show came to be affiliated with the Gamera films way back in its infancy when the TV station they started the series at purchased a package of bad movies. Interestingly enough, they credit Gamera for really helping them to find their stride and for upping their game to a certain extent. This is actually quite an interesting little retrospective that isn’t too clip heavy and which lets the guys who made these episodes speak their minds about their work and the film’s themselves. The original Japanese trailer for the film and five minutes or so worth of original MST Hour Wraps are also included on this disc.

    The Gamera Vs. Barugon disc includes a fun featurette entitled Gamera Vs. The Chiodo Brothers which is an enjoyable discussion of rubber suited monster movies with Stephen, Edward, and Charles Chiodo, special effects wizards and the men behind the MGM cult hit, Killer Klowns from Outer Space. The original Japanese language trailer is also included.

    Gamera Vs. Gaos includes a featurette entitled Gamera Obscura which is labeled as an oral history of the Gamera series courtesy of Kaiju film expert August Ragone. This is a pretty informative talk that provides some very welcome historical context for the films that the MST3K gang riff on as well as a history of the franchise, from its origins in the sixties to its delve into kiddy movie territory and it’s revival in the 1990s. Again, the original Japanese language trailer is included.

    Gamera Vs. Guiron includes the original Japanese trailer for the film and a few minutes or so worth of more original MST Hour Wraps while Gamera Vs. Zigra includes only the original Japanese trailer. All five discs in the set include some pretty awesome animated menus and chapter selection and included inside the tin along with the discs (which are housed in slim-line cases) are some poster art inserts from artist Steve Vance.

    The Final Word:

    Shout! Factory has gone above and beyond this time around and MST3K Vs. Gamera: Mystery Science Theater 3000, Vol. XXI stands tall as one of the best entries in the DVD line so far in its history. This is absolutely hysterical stuff and a must own for any MST3K fan thanks to the presentation, the packaging, the extras and of course the episodes themselves.
    Comments 3 Comments
    1. Alison Jane's Avatar
      Alison Jane -
      Awesome review!
    1. Roderick's Avatar
      Roderick -
      Stoked for this. Did you guys see that Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris is finally coming out on blu in Sept?

    1. Ian Jane's Avatar
      Ian Jane -
      Had not heard that, but that's awesome news.