Gamera vs. Monster X / Monster from a Prehistoric Planet
Retromedia Entertainment // Unrated // $19.95 // January 20, 2004
Review by Adam Tyner | posted January 15, 2004
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"That's crazy! Gamera doesn't attack people. I don't believe you even saw him."
"Yes, we did. It's true, Hiroshi! Gamera tried to kill us. I swear to you I saw him."
"I was there too."
"It's a lie. Gamera is a friend to all children."
"He isn't our friend anymore! I hate Gamera!"

Two sorta-classic Japanese monster flicks, 1970's Gamera vs. Monster X and 1967's Monster from a Prehistoric Planet, have been compiled into a double feature DVD package courtesy of Retromedia Entertainment, using the cropped, dubbed, 'n edited versions distributed by American-International Television a few decades back. Although both movies offer kaboodles of kitschy kaiju fun, the quality of their presentations is too subpar to warrant its sticker price.

Gamera vs. Monster X: Disregarding the clucked warnings of a miffed islander, arrangements are made to transport the strange statue cheerfully dubbed the Devil's Whistle to Osaka for exhibition at the 1970 World's Fair. The statue is said to be tainted by an ancient curse, which in a Japanese movie with 'vs.' in the American title can only mean one thing. The city is attacked by Jiger, a mammoth monster with a variety of parlor tricks at its disposal, including the ability to launch darts from its body and bathe Osaka in a destructive beam of light. The other creature on the card is Gamera, whose turtle-fueled strength proves to be no match for the might of Jiger. A pair of battles leave Gamera near death, a shell of his former heroic self as his lungs are infested with Jiger-larvae. (To hammer the point home, the movie incorporates footage of an elephant suffering from a similar ailment, with fistfuls of larvae yanked out of a sliced trunk. Yikes.) When all seems hopeless and reservations for area hotels begin to get cancelled ("not one or two, but thousands!"), two brave little boys commandeer an amusement park submarine and set out to heal their hero for one final showdown with the slumbering beast.

Gamera vs. Monster X is an odd movie, tossing some Fantastic Voyage in the kaiju blender as the boys delve into Gamera's innards inside a junior-sized sub. Despite the overemphasis on the apparently infallible kids and their insistence on forcing the name "Gamera" into every shouted line of dialogue, I enjoyed it. The movie moves at a pretty decent clip, paced well despite the sporadic action. The production values are modest, but the clunky suit work and special effects that include what looks like dolls lobbed across a miniature set are all part of the fun.

Monster from a Prehistoric Planet: Gappa-gappa-hey! The second movie on the bill also kicks off with some ominous warnings from native island folk. The publisher behind Playmate Magazine is on the verge of launching Playmate Land, which I guess means the mag either features different pictorials than the name had me expecting or the Japanese can get away with more in print than we can in the 'States. Anyway, Playmate Land is intended to serve in part as a kind of nature reserve, and a team has been dispatched to an island in the South Seas to collect all sorts of rare fauna to put on display. The Japanese group is met with a warm welcome since their presence means Gappa no angry now. Gappa happy. The earthquakes plaguing the island have least until a few of the overenthusiastic bunch venture too far and find out what the hell a Gappa is, then Gappa angry again. The team returns to Tokyo with a baby Gappa, a lizard-like bird, in tow, along with a stowaway island boy who dishes out frequent Gappa anger updates. The creature is a surefire way to boost circulation of the rag and make Playmate Land's debut some sort of unforgettable epochal event, but interest is kind of diluted when the public gets all the Gappa they can stomach as Mom and Pop stroll into town looking for Junior.

It's kind of interesting to watch the two movies back-to-back and note the different approaches in dubbing style between them. Gamera vs. Monster X has fairly rapid fire dialogue, while the two or three people providing all of the voices for Monster from a Prehistoric Island are considerably more relaxed and unafraid to reach for the campy brass ring. The dialogue doesn't match lip movements as closely, but despite the freedom that would seem to offer, there's little apparent effort for it to make sense. F'r instance:
"The publishing business is now getting in the tourist business!" (makes the kind of gesture that would seem to indicate that was a witty joke)
"Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! You are right, and every one of you will be able to enjoy a South Seas trip without leaving the country. Right here. Here. Here. Right here. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!"
My interest waned after half an hour or so. There's more talk about Gappa than actual Gappa. The most dull parts of most Japanese monster flicks are the emphasis on the human B-plots and the military's attempts at dealing with the menace. Since there isn't an opposing monster, those sorts of scenes comprise the entire ninety-ish minute runtime. Bland, derivative, and intermittently annoying.

ped from the headli
(and it's even worse when factoring in overscan)
Video: Both movies begin with a message noting that "every possible effort has been made to create the highest quality presentation available. Due to the age of the original materials, some audio and video imperfections exist." Pre-emptive disclaimers are rarely indicative of a stellar transfer, and the presentations here are about as dismal as they come, approaching a Ken Films 8mm reel fished out of a K-Mart cutout bin in the mid '70s. It's not a closely-guarded secret that online DVD reviewers are prone to hyperbole, but I cross my heart that I'm not exaggerating when I say that this DVD is indistinguishable from a VHS copy, and not even a good VHS at that. Both movies are heavily cropped from their original aspect ratio, somewhere in the neighborhood of 2.35:1, chopped down to 1.33:1. The image is soft, grainy, and riddled with speckles and assorted wear, with Gamera vs. Monster X suffering the most. I spotted a couple of video blips in Gamera... as well, furthering the impression that it was mastered from a pre-existing video source, along with some nasty sputters that abruptly cause the movie to skip forward. The hues of Gamera vs. Monster X are faded and washed-out, prone to fluttering within the space of a single shot. Portions of Monster from a Prehistorc Planet are so dark and murky that it's difficult to distinguish what little detail there may have otherwise been. I realize that these are older movies, Retromedia is a smaller outfit, and some allowances have to be made. I'm more interested in attempts to replicate the theatrical experience as opposed to a 3 AM airing on some long-bankrupt UHF station, and this double feature doesn't cut it.

A still presumably culled from the Japanese Gamera vs. Monster X DVD. (Lifted from the GioFX Big Monsters Page)

A screen cap from Retromedia's DVD.

Audio: The monaural English dubs are thin and shrill, sounding more like they're being pumped through the built-in speaker on the twenty-seven year old 13" TV in my garage with half of a Garfield sticker permanently embedded on the fake wood paneling as opposed to a passably decent modern home theater. The dubbing is expectedly goofy, most memorably the...well, entirety of Monster from a Prehistoric Planet and the Joisey-inflected dock worker and the presumably British faux-Muffy in Gamera vs. Monster X. Some hiss and pops are also present, but neither are heavy enough to distract all that much. There are no alternate soundtracks, subtitles, or closed captions.

Supplements: Nothin', unless you count scene selections or a plug for Retromedia's website.

Other Notes: Aside from the obvious concerns about the quality of the presentation, my primary DVD player also consistently froze at the 0:00:46 mark in Monster from a Prehistoric Planet. I can't say if this is a pervasive problem that could affect owners of other players or if it was just some strange hiccup with my particular configuration, but I felt it was worth noting anyway. Fast-forwarding past that moment corrected the problem.

Conclusion: This double feature of Gamera vs. Monster X and Monster from a Prehistoric Planet boasts some of the worst presentations I've had the misfortune of catching on DVD. It might have been worth picking up as a cheap curiosity if it were among the other $5 discs piled in the bargain bin, but there's nothing about this DVD that justifies its $20 price tag. Not even worth a rental.

For kaiju fans with multi-region capability (which I think is to say all of them), Gamera vs. Monster X is available in region 2 both individually and as part of a box set collecting Gamera flicks from 1969 through 1980. It boasts an anamorphic widescreen presentation, the original Japanese soundtrack, and optional English subtitles. DVD Talk has a review of the set for anyone who's interested. Monster from a Prehistoric Planet is available from most of the public domain mainstays, but Tokyo Shock has a disc on shelves domestically under the title Gappa: The Triphibian Monsters, sporting a letterboxed scope presentation and Japanese audio.

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