• Ultra Q: The Complete Series (Mill Creek Entertainment) Blu-ray Review (Steelbook Edition)

    Released by: Mill Creek Entertainment
    Released on: October 15th, 2019.
    Director: Various
    Cast: Kenji Sahara, Yasuhiko Saijô, Hiroko Sakurai, Yoshifumi Tajima, Ureo Egawa
    Year: 1966-1967
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    Ultra Q: The Complete Series – Movie Review:

    Created by renowned special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya, the man behind the original Godzilla and plenty of other classic sci-fi/kaiju/monster and samurai movies to come out of Japan, Ultra Q (the ‘Q’ stands for ‘question’) only lasted one season between 1966 and 1967 – but what a season it was!

    The first series to be produced by Eiji Tsuburaya and his company Tsuburaya Productions, the show would seem to have been inspired by The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone but it’s got a uniquely Japanese angel to it that makes it stand out from those better-known American TV series. Unlike those series, however, Ultra Q featured recurring characters: an aviator named Jun Manjome (Kenji Sahara of the original Godzilla) and his partner Ippei Togawa (Yasuhiko Saijou), a reporter named Yuriko Edogawa (Hiroko Sakurai, who would go on to star in Ultraman, which was spun off from this series) and her boss Seki Desuku (Yoshifumi Tajmimi) and, last but not least, a scientist named Professor Ichinotani (Ureo Egawa). These characters seem to spend more time documenting and reporting on the different situations that occur, rather than getting into direct conflict with the different monsters that inhabit the show. Sometimes these characters don’t even show up at all.

    Occasionally the show will bring other supporting characters and place them front and center for an episode – a young boy sporting glasses winds up helping to ‘defeat Gomess’ in the opening episode, while another boy rides around on a giant turtle who he wishes to grow large enough to bring him to an alternate world in the genuinely bizarre Grow Up! Little Turtle episode, for example. There isn’t a lot of development even for the recurring characters, and the episodes all work best when looked at as single serving entertainment rather than any sort of long narrative.

    Given full reign from Toho, who invested in Tsuburaya Productions, the series was able to make use of wide array of props and costumes that were created for the different monster films the elder studio had been cranking out for some time. As such, some of the monsters that are featured in Ultra Q might look a little familiar to seasoned kaiju movie fans! In turn, some of the monsters from Ultra Q were recycled for Ultraman, so again, there’s a familiarity to some of this material – it’s all a little incestuous, but these tactics did allow for both TV series to be brought in on a modest budget and fairly quickly at that. If you’ve got an affection for guys running about in rubber suits trashing intricately put together sets made out of highly detailed miniatures, then you’ll be in Heaven with this show. The Goro And Goroh episode features the same King Kong suit that was used in King Kong vs. Godzilla, so fans of that film might get a kick out of seeing the creature back in action, even if it’s in fullframe black and white rather than full color widescreen.

    The stories aren’t often deep or complicated but they’re interesting enough and effective enough to hold our attention until the inevitable monster of the week appears, typically around the half way mark. It’s here where the series really charms us, and not all of the ‘monsters’ are really monsters per se (again, see the Grow Up! Little Turtle episode), sometimes they’re just giant creatures that are sort of there. The series gets very creative with this, and we get some seriously cool creature design work in pretty much every one of the twenty-eight stories that the show tells. Although the series was aimed at a children’s audience, the show does occasionally get a bit dark – the Spider Baron episode being the chief example of this tactic, as it’s quite eerie and pretty much a straight up horror story. Never to the point where it’s terrifying or anything, but it’s interesting to see some of the directions that it goes in for this reason and unlike Ultraman and its various follow ups, there isn’t a single superhero to be found here.

    The twenty-eight episodes that make up the entirety of Ultra Q are spread across the four discs in this collection as follows

    DISC ONE: Defeat Gomess! / Goro And Goroh / The Gift From Space / Mammoth Flower / Peguila Is Here! / Grow Up! Little Turtle / S.O.S. Mount Fuji

    DISC TWO: Terror Of The Sweet Honey / Baron Spider / The Underground Super Express Goes West / Balloonga / I Saw A Bird / Garadama / Tokyo Ice Age

    DISC THREE: Kanegon's Cocoon / Garamon Strikes Back / The 1/8 Project / The Rainbow's Egg / Challenge From The Year 2020 / The Undersea Humanoid Ragon / Space Directive M774

    DISC FOUR: Metamorphosis / Fury Of The South Sea / The Idol Of Goga / The Devil Child / Blazing Glory / The Disappearance Of Flight 206 / Open Up!

    While, understandably, the quality of the series varies from one episode to the next, even the lesser episodes of Ultra Q are worth checking out, while the better ones really stand out as excellent entertainment. The series is creative and very ambitious, even by today’s standards. The black and white cinematography employed in the show is solid from start to finish, resulting in a surprisingly polished looking series. The performances from the leads and supporting players alike are all fine (Hiroko Sakurai is just as adorable here as she is in Ultraman), even the goofy kids that pop up in the show are just plain likeable.

    All in all, this is a wildly entertaining series and one that seems like it should be better known to western audiences than it is. Maybe now that it’s been given a proper English friendly Blu-ray release, that’ll change. Speaking of which…

    Ultra Q: The Complete Series – Blu-ray Review:

    Ultra Q: The Complete Series, which was shot on 35mm film stock, is spread across a quartet of 50GB discs and presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition and framed at 1.33.1 fullframe, which would have been the series’ original broadcast aspect ratio. The black and white transfers in this set are excellent. We get nice, clean whites and very strong blacks with a really solid grey scale handling everything in between. Detail is typically very strong here, not just ins close up shots – which look very impressive – but medium and long-distance shots as well. Though the higher resolution makes some of the series’ rubber suits and miniature sets more obviously rubber suits and miniature sets than they have appeared in the past, you can’t fault the discs for that – and let’s face it, sometimes that’s half the fun of an older TV series like this. The discs are well-authored with a pretty healthy bit-rate. As such, compression artifacts aren’t a problem. There’s plenty of natural film grain here but no major print damage, even if some minor specks and scratches do appear from time to time. Overall, however, these transfers are very good indeed.

    The only audio option offered up is a Japanese language DTS-HD 2.0 track, with removable subtitles available in English. Range is understandably limited by the original recordings but the older mono mixes sound just fine here. The tracks are properly balanced and there are no problems with any hiss or distortion worth noting. The subtitles are also nice and clear and easy to read.

    There are no extras on the discs themselves outside of menus offering episode selection, but it’s worth taking up a bit of space to discuss the packaging for this release. The six discs stack, three per side, inside some very ornate steelbook packaging that features some very nice artwork inside and out. The discs can be a little tricky to get off of the hubs inside, but this steelbook fits nicely inside a plastic slipcover that also holds a full color insert booklet. Inside the booklet we get a few pages detailing the history of the series and Tsuburaya Productions as well as an episode guide, some notes on the different monsters that appear in the show and more. While obviously it would have been nice to get some extra content on the discs themselves, this book and the deluxe packaging will certainly be appreciated by the series’ fans, old and new alike.

    Ultra Q: The Complete Series – The Final Word:

    Mill Creek Entertainment’s Blu-ray release of Ultra Q: The Complete Series presents every episode of this enthralling sci-fi styled monster mash in very nice shape indeed, the beautiful packaging and interesting booklet are really just the icing on the cake. The show itself is great – it’s a genuinely weird series well worth discovering if you’ve yet to see it, while those already appreciative of the series’ considerable charms can upgrade with confidence. Highly recommended.

    Click on the images below for full sized Ultra Q: The Complete Series Blu-ray screen caps!