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Featured DVD Review: Gamera vs. Barugon

June 21st, 2010

Gamera vs. Barugon - Buy from Amazon

Gamera vs. Barugon is the first sequel to Gamera, which I reviewed back in May when the DVD was released. While not as good as the original Gojira, it was entertaining and better than most similar films. (It is better than most of the later Godzilla movies.) After the success of the first film, a sequel was rushed into production and came out just six months after the release of the original. Was it able to live up to the quality of its predecessor? Or was this nothing more than a quick cash grab?

The film starts where the first film ended: with Gamera trapped in a rocket blasting its way through space to Mars. Still near Earth, it hits a meteorite and Gamera is released. Traveling back to Japan, he destroys a massive damn in search for energy before heading south to an erupting volcano.

Meanwhile, a group of thieves are planning on traveling to an island in the South Pacific where one of them was stationed during World War II. While there, he found a giant opal and hid it in a cave. (Or "hit" it in a cave, as the English subtitles say.) After some treachery, only one of the three thieves gets the opal and returns to Japan. While on the boat back an infrared lamp shine upon the opal, which turns out to be an egg... dun, dun, dun! The egg hatches and out pops Barugon. A giant lizard that can freeze things.

A giant lizard that can freeze things and a giant turtle than can breathe fire. Oh yeah, it's on.

That's enough of the plot. How is the quality of the film? It's actually really good. It's one of the best Kaiju films I've seen. Granted, that's not huge compliment, as these films are disproportionately likely to appear on MST3K and its spin-offs. (In fact, this movie was featured twice, once in the first season and once again during season four.) That said, while some of the special effects are not so special (miniature work can sometimes be painfully obvious) there are still some impressive scenes. Gamera destroying the damn in the beginning is cool. The birth scene of Barugon is almost as cool as the introduction of Gamera in the first film. And we can't forget the titular battles. The production value is very high compared to most in the genre. And quite frankly, it's 44 years old, so you have to take that into account as well. Additionally, the characters in this film feel like they are really part of the story, and not just glorified extras there to shout as the monsters destroy their town. (And that Onodera is a real prick.)

For a Gamera film, he's barely in the movie. After the beginning attack on the dam, the first conflict between the two monsters doesn't take place till nearly an hour in the movie. And after Gamera is frozen by Barugon in the first battle, he doesn't show up again for another 30 minutes. He really is a supporting character in his own movie.

There is only one real extra on the DVD, an audio commentary with August Ragone, who was on the first DVD, but this time he is joined with Jason Varney, who is described as an "unashamed" fan of Gamera. Like with the first film, there is a huge amount of information with a heavy emphasis on biographical information on the cast and crew. However, they also provide a lot of dry humor, making this audio commentary track fantastic to listen to. Also on the DVD are a trio of photo galleries. Meanwhile, in the package there's a small pamphlet with anatomical information on Barugon, as well as character bios, and an essay by the lead actor, Kojiro Hongo.

The Verdict

Gamera as a movie franchise is looked down upon by a lot of people; however, while the series did suffer from a decline in quality, Gamera vs. Barugon is still a strong entry in the Kaiju genre. There are not a huge number of extras on the DVD, but the audio commentary makes this DVD worth picking up for fans of Gamera, or of Kaiju films in general.

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