In the arctic circle a few jet fighters get into a bit of a mess. One of them goes down with a nuclear warhead and crashes into the ice. This releases the giant jet powered turtle GAMERA! Capable of flying around like a flaming Frisbee and able to devour and shoot fire, this huge creature makes a beeline straight to Japan, where he promptly terrorizes the populous.
A young boy, Kenny (Yoshiro Uchida) has a close encounter with Gamera, but the huge reptile saves his life instead of devouring him. Thus a bond is formed, with Kenny telling everyone that Gamera is a good turtle, all the while Gamera is trashing Tokyo, destroying natural resources and making a general mess of things. In the end the worlds scientists come up with the ultimate plan, one last hope that may defeat Gamera and save the world. But will Kenny help or hinder the plan?
I know what you’re thinking. Is this a Godzilla rip-off? Pretty much. Toho studios unleashed Godzilla on the screens in 1954, and really kicked off the giant monster craze in Japan and around the world. But rival Japanese studios all wanted a piece of that sweet pie and so they came up with their own versions. Gamera came from the Daiei studio and was fairly popular spawning many, many sequels. While both series were targeted toward kids, Gamera especially became a kiddie favorite, with his tag line becoming “Gamera – a friend to all children”. The line is uttered for the first time here, but the rest of the movie doesn’t really match the later flicks.
|Gamera attacks a toy boat, toy boyt, toy bot!|
This goes through all the regular attempts. They get the military to come in and attempt to blow him up with tanks and missiles. Soon it becomes apparent that all the explosions and fire only feeds Gamera. So then they switch and try to use cold against him, kind of like The Blob. But Gamera is able to escape that trap by turning into his flying flaming discus form. They finally use fire to lure Gamera to a rocket to Mars and send him flying into space.
Truth be told, for the type of movie it is, Gamera is pretty solid. It’s got the amazingly goofy model work, the bad dubbing, the nonsensical dialogue and the massive destruction. But because the plot points are so familiar and the characters aren’t terribly interesting the whole thing seems to move at a slower pace than it should. It’s also in black and white, while the later films were all in a rich color. As much as I enjoy black and white films, the Gamera series really benefited from color. Also keep in mind that as the movies continued, they became more outlandish and over the top, and thus more entertaining. You’re also missing the classic theme song that becomes an earworm to anyone that hears it. It’s interesting to see where the series started, but in the scope of things it’s not the best of the bunch – kind of like Dr. No.
The real oddity of Gamera is the way Kenny is used. He’s the only character who seems to actually have a more than one dimension. When we meet him he is obsessed with his pet turtle Tibby. He keeps bringing Tibby to school and will only draw pictures of the little beast. The other kids mock him and he’s a bit of a loner. Well his parents force him to get rid of Tibby, and that is when Gamera shows up.
Kenny nearly falls to his doom when Gamera destroys the lighthouse that Kenny is hiding in. But Gamera catches and saves him. Why? Well Kenny is convinced that Gamera is a friend to all children, and therefore “a good turtle”. He spends the rest of the movie bursting into rooms and telling every adult he can find (including military personnel and scientists). They all think he’s a bit touched, and frankly the English voice actor doesn’t help matters. In the end Kenny gets himself and other people in constant peril as he runs around trying to talk to Gamera and tell others that Gamera is good (while the huge beast is destroying everything and presumably killing people).
|"Check it out, it's Japanese Colonel Sanders!"|
The English presentation isn’t great. The dub is poor with many of the actors sounding bored, or having trouble matching the lip flaps. The film was originally in a wide screen presentation, and instead of panning around, they just hacked the frame up. This leaves the viewer with scenes of people talking to nothing and other scenes that seem to stretch out too long, because something is happening off on the side that we can’t see. Aside from these issues, Gamera isn’t a bad film at all. I think later films like Gamera vs. Zigra and Gamera vs. Guiron are more interesting. But the real question is, did it give enough for Joel and bots to use?
|"I don't think braces are going to help his dental issues."|
Well the team at Best Brains enjoyed riffing the movie back in their initial cable access season (back in 1988), that they sought it out for another go in 1991. This means they got to rework some of the riffs, adjust the pacing a bit and give us a really solid riffing.
Dr. Forrester introduces the film as “A love story about a giant turtle and downtown Tokyo”. And he’s actually correct, the riffing paints this as a love story between Kenny and Gamera, and it works to wonderful effect. The best jokes come as Joel and bots try to figure out what the hell is going on with Kenny. During a close up of Kenny as he stares blankly at a child who is mocking him, the boys start chanting in a style very similar to Jerry Goldsmith’s score for The Omen. Later when Gamera randomly destroys the control tower at an airport Joel observes, “Well there goes Kenny’s theory about Gamera being good hearted.”
|No, Neo-Tokyo is in "Akira" not "Gamera".|
For the most part the riffing is steady and solid, but the pacing of Gamera is on the slower side. There’s also the fact that Kenny is a pretty annoying character and the movie spends so much time with him. Sure the boys do a lot with it, but I always end up wishing the movie was over so I wouldn’t have to listen to the little dork saying how “Gamera’s a good turtle”.
The host segments in this one are a good time. Things start off with Joel and the bots doing some classic theater warm up exercises. Having been a theater geek in high school and college I got a kick out of that. For the invention exchange Joel creates a take home version of the all you can eat salad bar. The mads create a vacuum cleaner for your birdcage. It goes badly for Tweetie. At the first break Tom Servo sings a touching tribute to Tibby the turtle. This is one of my favorite songs from the series, and Crow even adds a hilarious verse. At the next break Tom and Crow have had it with Kenny and try to work some voodoo on him. They then ask the audience to write into the show and answer the important question, “Kenny. What gives?” The next break has Gamera (Mike Nelson dressed in green) visits and talks a bit about his past and what was with Kenny. The video below is Servo's ode to Tibby the turtle.
This is a solid episode, but compared to the some of the later Gamera exploits this one just doesn’t seem outlandish enough and a bit too slow. I give it 3 flying turtles out of 5.
This episode is available on MST3K vs Gamera box set (Vol XXI).