|War of the Monsters|
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|Japanese Title: Daikaiju Ketto Gamera Tai Barugon (“Giant Monster Duel: Gamera vs. Barugon”)
Alternate Titles: Gamera vs. Barugon (Sandy Frank TV & video title); Gamera vs. Barugon, Chilling Monster (international title)
Director: Shigeo Tanaka
Original Release Year: 1966
Running Time: 88 minutes
DVD Released By: Alpha Video
Audio: English mono
Extras: Picture gallery, Alpha Video catalog
Closed Captions: None
UPC #: 089218418692
Catalog #: ALP 4186D
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|The Film: At the end of Gammera the Invincible the giant turtle was trapped in a huge rocket and launched towards Mars. This film begins six months later. A meteor strikes the rocket, freeing Gamera, who flies back to Earth. Low on energy, Gamera destroys Kurobe Dam and then retreats to the fiery warmth of an equatorial volcano.
Meanwhile, WWII vet Mr. Hirata assembles a small group of people to go to New Guinea. Their goal: Retrieve a huge opal that Hirata hid there during the war. The group includes his younger brother Keisuke, the good-natured Kawajiri, and the greedy Onodera. After the jewel is found, Onodera wastes no time in betraying his partners and leaving them for dead. However, they have made a terrible mistake. The opal is not really a jewel; it is a monster’s egg! Onodera unwittingly incubates it with an infrared lamp, and it hatches just as the ship prepares to dock in Kobe.
Its growth accelerated by the lamp, Barugon emerges fully-grown from the sea. It’s a lizard-like creature that walks on all fours. The monster’s long tongue sprays a mist that freezes everything within its reach! That’s not its only weapon, though. As the military prepares a long-distance missile strike, Barugon unleashes a rainbow-energy ray from its dorsal spines. Gamera is attracted by the heat and energy, and the monsters do battle. Barugon freezes Gamera and continues its rampage unabated.
Keisuke has survived Onodera’s treachery, however. He returns to Japan accompanied by Karen, a woman from the island where the opal was found. The beautiful and alluring native has brought a large diamond with her. Her people have traditionally used it to lure Barugon-like monsters to their deaths, but the military operation to use it against the new monster goes awry. They do succeed in turning Barugon’s own rainbow against it, and while severely wounded, it still survives. The thawed-out Gamera may be the only hope for ending Barugon’s chilling reign!
War of the Monsters is interesting in that it doesn’t pick up with the child-friendly motif introduced in the original. (It wouldn’t be until the third film, Gamera vs. Gyaos, that Gamera would be firmly established as the “friend to children.”) It is also the only Showa Gamera film not directed by Noriaki Yuasa (Mr. Yuasa did serve as special-effects director). Its high production values and adult cast show that Daiei originally wanted the series to follow the path laid out by the earlier Godzilla films before veering off into kiddie territory. The two leads, Daiei regular Kojiro Hongo (as Keisuke) and Kyoko Enami (as Karen) are appealing and have good chemistry together. The other characters are also well developed, and the special effects are excellent. The pyrotechnics are bright and colorful. While quadrupedal monsters are difficult to portray with suitmation, Barugon is a well-realized creature. It’s also a very tragic monster. It was removed from its natural environment by man’s greed, and it’s sad to see the gruesome burns it suffers from having its own ray turned back upon it. Since Gamera is not established as a benevolent monster, he’s not necessarily the one the audience roots for as he tries to drag the bleeding Barugon beneath the waves. Despite the relatively darker, more mature tone of this film, there are a few scenes that earn (unintentional) laughs. The "grass skirts" worn by the islanders are of the red plastic variety. Onodera manages to hijack an important military operation single-handedly, armed only with a pistol. Still, in the realm of kaiju eiga in general (and the Showa Gamera series specifically), these are minor complaints. War of the Monsters is one of the best films of the original series.
It should be noted that this version of the film is edited. The Japanese version runs 100 minutes; WOTM runs 88. It appears to have been cut in order to fit into a 90-minute TV time slot (when first released in the States, WOTM skipped theaters and went straight to TV). The cuts mostly consist of explanatory dialogue. Scenes leading up to “Operation Diamond” and “Operation Mirror” are omitted in favor of narration. Grade: B
Video: War of the Monsters is presented in fullscreen. The print shows its age, with scratches and speckles throughout. The image is very soft and lacking in detail. It’s also extremely faded. The originally bright colors (which look beautiful on the region 2 disc) are so washed-out that the film appears to be in black & white at times. Scenes that do have color are sometimes dominated by a single hue: When Gamera attacks Kurobe Dam, the scene has a greenish tint to it, and Gamera’s jet flames are a faded, sickly yellow. This presentation is an insult to the colorful, widescreen film released in Japan. Grade: D-
Audio: This is the original U.S. release of the film. The English dubbing is different than the version syndicated to television and released on VHS by Sandy Frank (and shown on Mystery Science Theater 3000). The most noticeable difference is that Gamera’s name is pronounced “gah-MARE-a.”
The English mono audio isn’t very good. It sounds flat. The music sounds tinny, and the dialogue is sometimes muffled. Unimpressive. Grade: D
Extras / Menus: Like Alpha’s Gammera the Invincible, this disc contains a picture gallery. It consists of 24 still images. It includes 2 Japanese posters, 2 publicity pictures, 9 European lobby cards (which bear the title Godzilla Der Drache Aus Dem Dschungel), and 11 photos (both color and black & white). They include some standard publicity pictures, as well as still shots of the monster suits (they are visibly suspended from wires).
There is also a “Catalog” with over 200 images of other DVD titles available from Alpha. Alpha does come 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: One of the best Showa Gamera films looks and sounds pretty bad on this bargain bin DVD. It doesn’t come close to comparing with the region 2 release. At least this one is cheap. Final Grade: D
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