Background: Science fiction movies often tend to borrow concepts from one another, building on the ideas of what has gone before. The same holds true for anime so it was of interest to me to see the latest version of a Japanese classic, Zeiram: Special Edition recently for review, as it is another example of this concept, with all the cheese I remember from when it came out so many years ago. Fans of the genre may want to know that the original release of the movie (titled Zeram by Image Entertainment has long been out of print but since it had few extras to speak of, no original language track, and looked like no one cared how it was mastered, so this remastered update from Tokyo Shock should make a lot of you happy (I'm still keeping my old copy unless I get a good offer though). As a side note, the animated OVA has long been considered a compelling story with more quality then the movie by many authorities on the subject but that one is easier to find, and the sequel to the movie still seems stuck in limbo at this writing.
Movie: Zeiram: Special Edition is set in contemporary Japan. It details a couple of bounty hunters from another world trying to capture a particularly dangerous creature in order to gain the large bounty. One of the bounty hunters is named Iria (the gal on the front cover looking like she's ready to win a Halloween prize as a power ranger). She flaunts her disregard for safety protocols and the rules of her profession on a regular basis, making up for it with her skills learned from the school of hard knocks. Joining her is her computer pal Bob, a sentient machine that is far more apt to care about how things are done over actually getting them done; causing him to bump heads with his partner. As they are cruising the outskirts of known space, they near a planet that is considered extremely backward and regulations state that they must avoid any unnecessary contact with the natives. As luck would have it, a call goes out to bounty hunters about a relatively unknown Zeiram unit of unknown capacity, listing it in the moderately dangerous range with the proviso that this is the minimum rating for the being.
As the pair accept the assignment, they set up the equipment to guide the enemy into a protective field that acts as a shield to the living creatures around them; best described as a virtual reality force field that prevents civilian casualties (which can result in the revocation of bounty hunting licenses and fines, not to mention lower capture fees). All is going according to plan when a couple of local men stumble upon the remote war room set up by Iria and Bob, ending up in their being caught in the field as well. As skilled as she is, Iria's updated mission requires her to protect their lives while containing the Zeiram, with some quirks resulting from updated information. Apparently, the Zeiram is a living weapon, genetically designed by someone (much like the critters in Alien) to destroy and kill anything in its path. With numerous undocumented capabilities, Iria is pushed to the limit of her skill as anything that can go wrong seems to do just that, requiring the two humans to fend for themselves as she tries to fix her gear. Every time the Zeiram is captured or seemingly killed, it comes back to life, further complicated by the shrinking time limit imposed by the field it is trapped in. With all life possibly endangered, can Bob, Iria, and two of the most hapless losers in Japan save the day?
The back cover put it like this: "When two hapless electricians go out on a job, they have every reason to believe that it'll be a job like any other. But the bumbling twosome soon find themselves zapped into a virtual reality war zone! This zone is an artificial dimension set up by Iria, a cute, tough-as-nails bounty hunter and her super-intelligent computer, Bob, to do battle with Zeiram, a seemingly indestructible alien that's been genetically engineered to kill. The electricians do their best to help Iria take on Zeiram in this epic adventure." The low budget, the wooden dialogue, and the nod to all those horror movies where the evil creature is unstoppable was omnipresent here but it was full of the goofy kind of Saturday afternoon fun you may have had watching Godzilla movies years ago.
The previous edition was marred by numerous technical flaws and no original vocal track. I'm pleased to say that this special edition had some of the original extras from the laserdisc release as well as the Japanese vocals, and the English language dub wasn't half bad either. You might be one of the fans that think it's a cult classic, or one of the types that simply enjoys cheesy movies from Japan, but as dated as the special effects are and as lame as the elements making up the movie appear to be; it had a lot of the fun factor many big dollar blockbusters seem to lack these days. I'm not going to pick apart the acting, the directing, or the numerous logical flaws of the movie but if you're in the mood for fun; Zeiram: Special Edition should be on your short list for fun, so I'm rating it as Recommended.
Picture: Zeiram: Special Edition was presented in the original 1.77:1 anamorphic widescreen color it was shot in by director Keita Amemiya. I've seen the movie on cable television, laserdisc, VHS, and on both DVD versions so I can safely say that this version is the best of the batch by a wide margin. Yes, it's 15 years old and made on a budget that probably wouldn't pay for film stock on a modern independent release but taking that into consideration, it had more detail, more depth, and more texture without the resulting grain I was expecting. Yes, there were a few moments of light pattern noise and it didn't look like it came out of Hollywood but I thought it was the best quality picture the movie has ever had.
Sound: The audio was presented with a choice of a 2.0 Dolby Digital original Japanese track or a dubbed English language version, both with optional English language subtitles. There were some liberties taken with the translation from the dub to the subs but for the most part, only true slavering fanboys that argue minute points online will have a problem with it. The separation was minimal and the dynamic range seemed to be on the weak side too but it was appropriate to how the movie looked with the score and special effects working well here. I can't imagine a newer, HD version sounding or looking any better, probably resulting in magnifying any visible flaws instead.
Extras: The original DVD release had some trailers and that was it, dispensing with the laserdisc interview of director Keita Amemiya and lead female Yuko Moriyama. I'm pleased to say that this special edition version of the movie has restored the lengthy interview shot so long ago. It used clips to point out certain aspects of the making of the movie, had anecdotes by the duo as they described how tough the shooting schedule was, and provided a good look at the movie overall so I'm glad it has been added in here. There were some trailers and promo spots for the movie as well as a cardboard slipcase for the DVD that was in a preferred keep case rather then the original's snapper.
Final Thoughts: Zeiram: Special Edition was as solid a version as you're likely to find released on a standard DVD these days. It restored the extras from the laserdisc, added the original language track back in, and looked like some effort went in to restoring the movie compared to the lackadaisical version released early in the days of the DVD format. Iria the space based bounty hunter showed the men how it was done and the twists and turns of the fight against the nearly indestructible Zeiram killing machine provided equal amounts of comedy, action, and thrills to enjoy. I would have liked the originally announced double disc set full of cool extras to be the version released but it was still a solid version that fans unwilling to pay so much for crappy OOP copies of the movie can enjoy for a long time to come.
If you enjoyed this movie and like anime, take a look at some of the recommendations by DVD Talk's twisted cast of reviewers in their Best Of Anime 2003, Best Of Anime 2004, and Best of Anime 2005 articles or their regular column Anime Talk.