DVD Review: “Gamera Vs. Barugon (1966)”
Released By: Shout! Factory
Release Date: July 6, 2010
Number of Discs: 1
Approximate Running Time: 106 Minutes
Special Features: Audio Commentary, Photo Galleries, Photo Booklet
Suggested Price: $19.93
Following the events of the previous film (Gammera: The Invincible in the US), the giant turtle is hurtling through space on his way to Mars inside the Plan Z capsule. A passing meteorite strafes the craft and frees Gamera, who makes a bee line (or is it turtle line) back to Earth. Meanwhile, treasure seekers recover a prehistoric egg they mistake for a giant opal. It is accidentally bathed in infrared rays when one of the men attempts to cheat his partners and escape with their prize. A chameleon like lizard monster emerges from the egg and grows to humongous proportions on the shores of Japan. The scene has been set for Gamera’s first war with another giant monster (hence the original US title for this film – War of the Monsters)
The Fanboy Factor:
I’ve always had a soft spot in my head for the Gamera films. True, they were knock offs of Toho’s immensely popular Godzilla series but Daiei Studios never tried to act like it was making anything else and they never took themselves too seriously while they did it. Where the first Godzilla film had been played straight and deadly serious, Gamera came out of the pet store box with his tongue firmly planted in his tusked cheek. I doubt anyone ever thought that a giant turtle that could breathe fire and fly by spinning his shell was going to be taken seriously.
Like Godzilla, Gamera’s second outing would establish the tone the original series would follow through to the end. Gamera was given another giant monster to fight and, by proxy, became Earth’s hero instead of its enemy. Barugon is no slouch in the laughs department either. He most closely resembles a giant Jackson’s Chameleon but he has an impossibly long tongue that looks like a battering ram and shoots fire extinguisher foam! When all else fails, he can fire an energy rainbow from his back and fry just about anything in its path!
The second Gamera film picks up right where the first one left off, with the titular turtle hurling through space. As soon as Gamera is released, he returns to Earth to settle a few scores but then disappears for the next forty minutes. During this down time, we get a secondary plot about a group of treasure hunters who recover what they think is a giant opal from the jungle but ultimately turns out to be the second billed Barugon. Finally, at close to the hour mark, we get the first monster battle of the picture and, with the exception of a few drawn out exposition scenes, the film stays interesting until the end.
While laying most of the ground work for the films that followed, Gamera Vs. Barugon was unique in that it did not feature any children. This was an element that would be added later in the series to less than spectacular effect but clearly indicated who Daiei thought was their target audience. Gamera is also still treated as a threat here but recognized by the end of the film as the lesser of the two evils and presumably left to his own devices after the conclusion.
The picture quality of Gamera Vs. Barugon is truly astounding. Shout! Factory did a disservice by not including the original US television version of War of the Monsters as an extra. There is no comparison between the murky television prints used for previous home video transfers and the beautiful widescreen version presented here in eye popping color. This new transfer is so clean that it doesn’t do the cheap Barugon costume any favors in the close ups! The audio is also excellent although, contrary to other reviews, presented only in Japanese with hard coded English subtitles which cannot be removed. The English audio track on the DVD is dedicated to a commentary by two Gamera experts who literally do provide more information than just about anyone could want. They even go so far as to compare the finished film to both the shooting script and the US version, which omitted eleven minutes of non-monster footage, and speculate on the motivations behind even seemingly trivial actions. Other extras include behind the scenes photos, scans of the original Japanese movie program, and a nifty twelve page full color booklet of photos and information.
The Bottom Line:
Shout! Factory has done Gamera fans everywhere a service with this DVD, which follows the original Gamera (1965) in a series that will eventually include all seven of the original films and the stock footage fiasco Gamera: Super Monster from 1980. For those who did not grow up watching the adventures of the giant flying turtle on Saturday afternoon television, you couldn’t ask for a better opportunity to catch up on this silly but entertaining Japanese monster film series.