In 1954, Toho Company Ltd. released GOJIRA to great Japanese box office success. When the film was issued in the United States in 1956 under the title GODZILLA with Hollywood-shot scenes featuring Raymond Burr, it achieved international box office success and began an avalanche of assorted beasts and behemoths leveling Japanese cities ranging from Toho's RODAN (1956), MOTHRA (1961), and GHIDRAH (1965) to Daiei's 1965 cult favorite GAMERA to Nikkatsu's MONSTER FROM A PREHISTORIC PLANET (1967). Now, the good folks at Retromedia DVD have issued the sixth Gamera film (GAMERA VS.MONSTER X.) and MONSTER FROM A PREHISTORIC PLANET in one epic DVD double feature, and while the quality may not be up to the standards genre fans have come to expect of DVD titles from the likes of MGM or Warner Bros., it still is nearly three hours of reasonably priced giant Japanese monster fun.
GAMERA VS.MONSTER X. was Daiei's sixth film in this series that started in 1965 with the original classic. While Gamera was a villain in his first effort, by 1970 he was transformed into the chief guardian of the earth and true friend to all children and after battling such evil monsters as Barugon, Gyaos, Viras, and Guiron, he now faces his greatest challenge... Jiger (Monster X). It seems Jiger terrorized the inhabitants of the ancient MU Empire (anyone remember Toho's ATRAGON?) and to subdue the beast, these people buried it alive and placed a special statue over it to keep it down. Centuries later, an expedition to one of the remote Pacific islands finds the statue and plans to transport it to Japan (where else?) for exhibition at Osaka's EXPO '70. Of course, Jiger escapes and proceeds to follow the statue to Japan where it threatens to lay waste EXPO '70 and eventually all of Japan. Naturally, being a Gamera film, there is no way our titanic tortoise is going to allow his homeland to be destroyed and two vicious battles ensue. Add a subplot that echoes 1966's FANTASTIC VOYAGE in which two boys actually travel through Gamera's body in a mini-sub plus a good deal of urban destruction and a travelogue-like tour of the real EXPO '70 and you have 81 minutes of cult classic fun.
On the same disc is Nikkatsu's 1967 production of MONSTER FROM A PREHISTORIC PLANET (aka GAPPA, THE TRIPHIBIAN MONSTER). Long considered an unofficial Japanese retelling of the British film GORGO (1961), the story concerns a group of Japanese adventurers who travel to a remote Pacific island to bring back exotic animals for a zoo/amusement park their magazine magnate employer plans to open. While searching various caves, our heroes find a huge egg out of which hatches a strange bird/lizard monster. Of course, the baby monster is taken back to Japan to be exhibited while back on the island, the little reptile's parents emerge from the cave and quickly high-tail it to Japan to get their son back. Naturally, much urban destruction occurs (in some very well-staged special effects sequences) and this all leads to a strange and touching (really!!) climax at Tokyo Airport.
Genre fans of this reviewer's age group will remember with great fondness, the frequent television airings of these films during the 1970s. GAMERA VS.MONSTER X. was the fifth Gamera film released directly to television by American International Television (AIP-TV). The familiar TITAN SOUND (formerly TITRA SOUND) voices can be heard throughout featuring many of the performers from SPEED RACER, and various Godzilla/Gamera/AIP "sword and sandal" films. MONSTER FROM A PREHISTORIC PLANET was in fact released to theaters in 1967 under the title GAPPA, THE TRIPHIBIAN MONSTER. Later in 1968, AIP-TV released it under its new MONSTER FROM A PREHISTORIC PLANET title and both the theatrical and television versions feature English dubbing done by William Ross' Tokyo-based FRONTIER ENTERPRISES. This studio dubbed numerous Japanese monster films into English (most notably the alternate "international" version of DESTROY ALL MONSTERS on ADV DVD).
Retromedia's DVD is simply a full-frame transfer of the 16mm prints of both films. GAMERA VS.MONSTER X is somewhat grainy (most likely a result of AIP-TV's blowing the film up from its original DaieiScope widescreen) and the colors are a little dull in places. However, this really is in no way detrimental to viewing enjoyment. The mono sound quality is good (in Dolby Digital for both films) and there are no major jumps or scratches in either title (however, there are minor ones typical of aging 16mm prints). Both films are the uncut American versions and GAMERA VS.MONSTER X clocks in at 81 minutes while MONSTER FROM A PREHISTORIC PLANET comes in at 89 minutes. MONSTER FROM A PREHISTORIC PLANET is also rather dark in some spots, but as this reviewer remembers it from frequent television airings on New York's THE 4:30 MOVIE, these scenes were always a little dark and grainy. However, considering so many of the cheap DVD companies that over the last year have produced some of the worst looking and sounding DVDs, Retromedia's double feature is the best of these 16mm transfers to DVD and is definitely recommended for the serious Japanese monster movie fan for the $19.95 retail price (don't forget you are getting two movies although there aren't any extras). In fact, since Retromedia has already produced a double feature of ATTACK OF THE MONSTERS and DESTROY ALL PLANETS plus this one, this reviewer would like to see a double feature of WARNING FROM SPACE and RETURN OF THE GIANT MONSTERS. Maybe in the future... (Joe Cascio)
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