Gamera: Attack Of Legion Review
The second in what is known as the Heisei trilogy of Gamera movies (due to being produced during the reign of Japanese emperor Heisei) happens to be my first foray into the popular Kaiju (monster) movie genre and ADV Films very first live-action DVD release here in the UK. Gamera is, much like the better known Godzilla, the title character and kaiju of a lengthy series of Japanese monster movies dating back to the sixties, though unlike many modern updates the Heisei Gamera trilogy is generally considered by fans to be the best of the Gamera movies. With minimal experience in the genre I cannot vouch for this particular viewpoint but can say a little about Gamera: Attack of Legion...
After a freak meteor shower near Sapporo, Japan a series of strange events follow including electrical and communications problems until an underground train and the passengers on board are the first victims of alien beings from outer space. Given the name of Legion, for they are many the alien creatures threat to humankind is such that Gamera, established in the first of the Heisei movies as protector of the earth, must rise from his slumber and get ready for some serious kaiju action.
Establishing the purpose of Legion and providing the human element in the film are Midori Honami, a local scientist ably portrayed by Miki Mizuno and Colonel Watarase (Toshiyuki Nagashima) who is directing the military's defence of their new enemy. The two literally stumble across each other yet their working together is never really questioned. Instead this pairing seems natural as Watarase provides the samples and evidence collected following the attacks which Midori then analyses, compares with relevant species on earth to provide a simple analogy and slowly provides us with an altogether believable if simplistic scientific background to who and what Legion and its purpose is.
Important to the films substance these characters not only provide an investigative side plot but add to the general sense of camaraderie and light-hearted nature of the proceedings. A fun example is how Midori, an educated and published scientist still somewhat surprisingly lives with her parents above their convenience store. So when a fellow male scientist and Colonel Watarase arrive for tea in her cramped bedroom to look further into the problem at hand, there is an opportunity for some simple comedy stemming purely from the unusual circumstances and her concerned father. This is however about as close to comedy as the film comes and the proceedings are certainly never played for laughs, but what you take from it is a genuine liking for the characters (including the oddly calm and sensible Colonel Watarase), meaning their outcome is all the more rewarding.
What the core audience is really interested in though is the kaiju action. As noted before this is my first kaiju film and despite being a fan of Asian movies I am ashamed to admit I did have that preconceived notion that men in monster suits trashing a model city is a little silly, and to be honest that notion still holds a spark of truth. But, oh what fun it is to watch as Gamera, a giant turtle stood on its hind legs takes a swing at the finely constructed reproductions of modern Japanese cities! Of course with this being such a recent addition to the genre the special effects portraying these cities are actually of a fairly high standard. The "suitmation" too is very effective and though facial expressions are minimal the overall detail of the costumes is high while the designs, particularly of the giant Legion kaiju, are quite complex and interesting to see in action.
The battles themselves rely more on projectile attacks than actual close combat methods which is most likely due to the restrictions of the suitmation technique, though I'm sure the urge to employ CGI techniques and blow up more of the surroundings also had an impact on this decision. Speaking of which, one of Gamera's projectile attacks is apparently new to his previous arsenal and bares more than a passing resemblance to what anyone who has seen The Guyver will find very familiar. Going back to basics however there is one particular lunge in the initial kaiju sequence where Gamera takes out the first Legion pod that just repeatedly brings a smile to my face. There is something about the way in which the actor playing Gamera is working so hard to build up all his momentum to really crush his target that when transmitted via the extraneous suit really gives Gamera some character and I think shows why there is so much enjoyment to be had from this genre of movies.
Presented in 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen (which is very close to the 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio) this transfer is something of a disappointment. Despite using a relatively clean print the image is overly soft and lacking in fine detail yet worse still for a movie that is predominantly set in low light conditions, has very poor contrast levels. This results in an often muddy image that when combined with some compression issues (mostly pixellation) reminds me of the kind of output Tartan are known for.
I should note that the rating reflects an average to acceptable viewing experience on a traditional CRT television of moderate size (32” Widescreen). Screengrabs however were very difficult to obtain due to the interlaced nature of the picture making the average quality transfer even harder to work with, meaning those using a high end display device (Plasma/Projector/PC Monitor) should tread very carefully and most likely deduct a point or two from the score.
The original Japanese language track is presented here in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround and fairs considerably better than the video side of this disc. What you will find is a well balanced mix that offers some nice surround effects during the many battles featured in the film while the bass is always ready to rumble your sub in the frequent explosions. An optional English dub track is also provided in an equally good Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround mix.
Two subtitle tracks are available, one to accompany the English dub which subtitles any Japanese text seen in the film, and another that accompanies the Japanese language track and covers both the text and provides a literal translation of the dialogue.
All bonus material is presented in Full Screen with Stereo sound while English subtitles are only present on the Japanese language extras.
The first and most significant bonus is an Interview with the director of special effects that runs for 31 minutes. After an appropriate spoiler warning informing us this interview discusses all three Heisei era films we are thrown into an unusual interview session. Set in a white room with sparse furnishing the initial feel is of a production that is trying to be hip, but is actually a little stale to begin with as the interviewer asks long winded questions that seem to throw the interviewee. Despite the often slow pace some interesting points are covered and the inclusion of clips from all three films helps to maintain the audience interest.
Next up are several smaller featurettes that total around 25 minutes and make for compelling viewing if only to see just how much effort goes in to promoting these films and drawing in the punters. Gamera Press Conference is a collection of footage from two press conferences where the films cast, crew and studio backers are present to explain their expectations and goals. Behind the Scenes in Japan is a compilation of footage, some humorous and some traditional making-of fair that is all set to a cheesy rock song about Gamera. The Gamera Promotional Events featurette is set to the same audio track and features a look at the various events that were set up around the films theatrical release. The Opening Night in Japan section shows how the entire main cast and crew gathered to say a few words to those who turned out for the films premiere screening, while the Japanese side of the bonus features are brought to a close by exhaustive Theatrical Trailer and TV Spot reels.
Rounding out the discs bonus material are two English language based extras. The first is a collection of Outtakes from the English dubbing sessions that are of variable interest, while the second is a rather bizarre video piece put together specially for this release entitled Lake Texarkana Gamera. This is a twelve minute section of the film that has been dubbed into English by 'Rednecks' and despite the incredibly childish nature of this feature (and the fact one of the voices sounds more like a poor Bill Clinton impression than a redneck) it does manage to raise a few smiles.
The only real negative here is the transfer given to a film that has whetted my interest for the kaiju genre, which is well represented by Gamera: Attack of Legion as it offers an enjoyable story aided by genuine characters and some great kaiju action sequences. Fortunately the audio does do the film justice and while the bonus features may be a little slight they do offer some insight to the genre and the methods in which the Japanese promote their work.