DVD review ‘MST3K vs. Gamera – Vol. XXI’: No shell of past glories

Personally, I don’t care if my Mystery Science Theater 3000 DVDs come in a handsome collectible tin, a plastic sheath, a cardboard case or a fishwrap. I’m happy just to have them. And being a former child, which makes Gamera my friend (ex-friend?), I’m especially happy to have MST3K’s extensive (well, five-film) collection of Gamera episodes via Shout! Factory’s new boxed set — in a handsome collectible tin — due Aug. 2.

Yes, I’m a smarty pants, and I have it early. Sorry. But at least that means I can tip you off to what’s inside.

You already know the movies and their MST treatments. You already know that Gamera was a Japanese man in a rubber suit playing a giant tusked turtle urped up by the earth and battling other bizarre behemoths while selectively being a friend to all bratty, know-it-all, always in the way children in silly tiny-pants outfits. And you already know he did this in the flicks Gamera, Gamera Vs. Barugon, Gamera Vs. Gaos, Gamera Vs. Guiron and Gamera vs. Zigra, all collected here.

But you probably don’t yet know what DVD extras lurk inside — why, just like the flames roiling in Gamera’s belly before belching from his shell’s butt (tail) or arm and leg holes while spinning and flying like a slimy UFO. So you see? You need me after all. Sigh.

Now take notes. There may be a test.

Disc 1, with 1965’s first Gamera, has So Happy Together: A Look Back At MST3K and Gamera. And if you know why it’s titled So Happy Together, then slap your gams with Gamera glee, because you’re right: It’s a reference to great and groovy ’60s So Cal pop-rock group the Turtles and their biggest hit. (Though it was named Happy Together, not So Happy Together, and came out in ’67. You’re right — I am an insufferable smarty-pants.)

The 23-minute featurette blends on-camera solo interviews of the usual suspects — Joel Hodgson, Jim Mallon, Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff, Josh Weinstein — with nicely matched clips from the goofy Japanese monster movies.

In fact, “goofy” seems to be a mantra of this discourse, as our snickering but appreciative heroes note that Gamera movies, in effect, became MST’s “biggest film franchise.” (Conniff likens him to “a recurring character” on the show.) Beyond the five network episodes in this set, that turtle love also dates to MST’s early KTMA days when such cinematic slush lay mouldering in the station’s vaults and was snatched up by the burgeoning movie-mocking crew.

After this fun stuff (always good to see these guys), the disc also yields five minutes of MST Hour wraps for the corresponding two episodes (good to see Mike Nelson, too, since he’s missing from the interviews) and Gamera’s original Japanese trailer (a nice touch,  with the weirdness of Japanese dialogue and graphics).

Disc 2 has another 23-minute featurette (hmmm . . . designed for a half-hour telecast with ads?) called Gamera Vs. The Chiodo Brothers. It gathers the three low-budget exploitation flick special effects whizzes (how would that look on a business card?) for a lively discussion of rubber-suited monster effects –their pitfalls (it’s hot as hell in there, you can’t move, you sweat like a pig and it stinks) and their wonders (they somehow look “real” compared to today’s clearly-from-cartoonland and can-only-be-artificial CG).

The Chiodos rightly credit their childhood infatuations for sparking and sustaining their monster mash obsessions, noting that they wouldn’t like Gamera flicks so much if they hadn’t seen them when they didn’t know any better to be unimpressed. They also gamely play out a docu-style “reality” as their den set shakes, rattles and rolls to periodic tiny quakes which turn out to be — well, you saw Jurassic Park and its cup of quake-shaken water, right? It wasn’t from a quake, was it? And we quaked in fear!

Best tidbit of the session: How do you keep a rubber monster suit from stinking after a day of sweaty shooting? You spray it with Vodka. The alcohol kills the bacteria. You see? You learn something every day. Tell the kids!

Disc 3 takes the bold step of having a 30-minute (not 23-minute) featurette, this time a one-angle shot of one guy, fanboy and author August Ragone, who delivers Gamera Obscura: A History. It may seem dull at first, but his scholarly stories ripple with detail, including his talk of an aborted try by the same studio to use live rats on miniature sets for a monster movie (uh, that didn’t work) before trying an endearing giant turtle to save their bacon. (How’s that for a mixed-species metaphor?)

Good info. Still, some stills or clips would have been nice — rights be damned!

Oh yes, you also get original Japanese trailers here and on the other discs, as well as more MST Hour wraps on Disc 4 for Guiron.

There, is that enough, apart from the usual mini-posters from the movie casings and the newly animated menus with Crow and Servo? Or is the on-screen material itself not enough entertainment for you? Well then, how about that handsome collectible tin? It sure beats a slimy turtle’s shell for housing your gamut of Gamera.

Still not satisfied? Then be like the Chiodos, and make your own miniature rubber turtle suit to house them. You may not even need any Vodka.

Sure, that sounds goofy. I’ve been watching Gamera movies, ya know, so give me a break. Besides, just like Daiei, the big boy’s little studio, you’ve gotta start somewhere.

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