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Box Front Japanese Title: Daikaiju Gamera (“Giant Monster Gamera”)
Alternate Titles: Gamera (U.S. TV & video title - Sandy Frank dubbed version), Giant Monster Gamera (Neptune Media video title - subtitled Japanese version), Gamera the Invincible (international title)
Directors: Noriaki Yuasa and Sandy Howard
Original Release Year: 1965 (Japanese Version), 1966 (U.S. Version)
Running Time: 85 minutes

DVD Released By: Alpha Video
Video: Fullscreen
Audio: English mono
Extras: Gammera picture gallery, Alpha Video catalog
Subtitles: None
Closed Captions: None
Region: 0
Format: NTSC
Chapters: 6
Packaging: Keepcase
MSRP: $6.98
UPC #: 089218416599
Catalog #: ALP 4165D
Status: Available


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Reviewed by:
Zillamon51
The Film: In the Arctic, the U.S. Air Force shoots down a Soviet military airplane.  The plane was carrying an atomic bomb, which detonates.  The explosion releases a giant turtle-like monster from its ancient resting place.  The Japanese research ship Chidori Maru is sunk by the creature.  The only survivors are Dr. Hidaka (a scientist), Kyoko (his assistant), and Aoyagi (a cameraman).  They had gone ashore to an Eskimo village.  The Eskimo Chief presents the researchers with an ancient stone tablet carved with enigmatic images of a turtle.  He refers to the monster as “Gammera.”

Meanwhile in Hokkaido, a young boy, Toshio, is scolded by his father and older sister for his obsession with turtles.  His father (the keeper of the lighthouse) makes Toshio release his pet turtle back into the wild.  While the international community debates the existence of Gammera, the monster appears in Hokkaido and demolishes the lighthouse.  However, the otherwise destructive monster demonstrates a soft spot for children when he rescues Toshio from falling off of the collapsing structure.

Gammera is less considerate towards the residents of Tokyo, however, when he attacks the city.  Military firepower proves useless against the strange creature.  Gammera not only breathes flames, he consumes them too!  Gammera’s affinity for fire is used to lure him to an island, where the ambitious “Plan Z” is being prepared to rid the world of the monster.

This is the film that introduced the U.S. to Gamera (the American distributor added the extra “M”), a monster created by Daiei Studios in Japan to compete with Toho’s highly successful Godzilla series.  The titular monster Gamera is a giant fire-breathing turtle that can also fly via jet propulsion!  As strange as this seems, even more bizarre monster foes would be introduced as the series progressed.  The original film is in black and white, perhaps in an attempt to capture some of the moodiness of
the original Godzilla.  It’s played straight, with only Toshio’s bond with Gamera suggesting the child-oriented approach future Gamera films would take.  The special effects are good, with plenty of explosions and some great miniature work.  Gamera is a solid monster film that paved the way for a long-running series of enjoyable movies.

Like the 1956 U.S. version of
Godzilla:  King of the Monsters; Daikaiju Gamera was extensively edited to make room for additional scenes featuring American actors.  A version that was uncut (except for the credits) and with a different English dub was later released on VHS and syndicated to TV by Sandy Frank.  That version was simply titled Gamera, and would also be shown on Mystery Science Theater 3000.  The version on this DVD is Gammera the Invincible, which includes over twenty minutes of added footage!  The new scenes are all talky sequences that slow the film down.  (They increase the running time from 79 to 85 minutes.)  They are full of hammy overacting by the American actors.  The most inept scene is a television debate between two “experts.”  They both smoke on the air, and the debate deteriorates into name-calling.  The show doesn’t even have a proper set.  Ladders and stage lights are plainly visible in the background!  There is also a Japanese ambassador whose sole line of dialogue is “…Pran Z is hope of the worrd.”  The story isn’t really changed; the new scenes attempt to give the film an international scope as various experts, diplomats, and military authorities debate how to deal with the monster.  Grade:  B-

Video: There is one word to describe this transfer:  “Ugh.”  First of all, this widescreen movie is presented in fullscreen.  This greatly reduces the scope and impact of the imagery.  The picture is consistently grainy throughout.  The black & white image is faded; similar shades often bleed together making details fuzzy and indistinct.  There are speckles and blotches throughout the film, and vertical lines that sometimes stay onscreen for minutes at a time.  Grade:  D

Audio: There’s nothing terribly wrong or right about this audio mix.  It’s English mono, and serviceable if unspectacular.  Grade:  C

Extras / Menus: What do you know…an Alpha DVD with an actual extra!  The “Gammera Gallery” consists of 28 still pictures.  Included are 14 images from the film’s pressbook (promotional materials for theater owners).  It includes clipart ads and poster images, as well as the promise that the American distributor was planning to spend $1 million promoting the film on TV (“Super monster deserves super exploitation!").  There are also 8 lobby cards, and 3 additional photos.  There is a nifty poster for a double feature with Knives of the Avenger (a Viking movie directed by Mario Bava).  Finally, there is both the front and back of the record sleeve for the 45 RPM of the Moons’ Gammera theme.  The back even proclaims the Moons as “The most exciting group since the Beatles!!”  Nice job digging all this up, Alpha!

There is also a “Catalog” with over 200 images of other DVD titles available from Alpha.  Alpha deserves credit for coming up with some cool, colorful cover art for many of their discs.  All of the menus are still images with no music or sound.  They are very simple and easy to navigate. 
Grade:  C+

Final Analysis: It would have been great to have a really good-looking edition of this movie on DVD.  Unfortunately, that did not happen.  Gammera the Invincible was previously available on VHS in a very nice special edition from Neptune Media.  It was a clean, crisp widescreen print, and included liner notes and trailers.  It looked a lot better that this cheap edition.  It’s long out of print, but if you’re a big fan of the film, look for it on eBay or Half.com.  As for this DVD, the only things that save it from being a complete waste are the picture gallery and a low price tag.  Final Grade:  D+
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