Nuclear radiation is a thing of the past, Gamera 3 effectively writing out the genre favorite catalyst for a spiritual sense of being, mana, and human/monster linking. Humans are the key here, kaiju a stand-in for humanity’s plight and their own selfishness, the closest a giant monster film will ever find itself in conjunction with the art house.
Not lost is a sense of spectacle, Gamera 3 overloaded with riveting action scenes, the attack on the populated Shibuya district kaiju-heaven. Gamera returns as a vicious, uncontrolled beast, his connection with a young women lost, but not his purpose. His arch-nemesis Gyaos, reptilian birds, attack the populace as the terror inducing terrapin performs his world-saving duties. It just happens to be in the midst of downtown on a Friday night.
On the other end of the monster duo is Iris, raised by a depressed young girl with revenge in her eyes. Ayana’s (Ai Maeda) cold stares as she envisions what this found baby creature could do to the monster that crushed her parents is fearsome, almost as much as the full grown Iris. More devastating to Gamera fans is Ayana’s visions, looking on from the car in a replay of the first film, her version of Gamera given a deadened, white-eyed, spiky visage that is unholy in its appearance.
Gamera 3 will tackle topics with a subtle grace in addition to the lavish, exemplary miniature work, arguably the best ever conceived without loads of post-production CG help. However, Revenge of Iris might have a message buried within its subtext, lost if even a handful of lines are missed. The means of Iris’ creation, a long dormant family curse (or something), never comes to the forefront. Iris just is, and the concept of Gamera being one of hundreds throughout history has no play. Military forces have changed their attitude, still unwilling to see Gamera’s savior capabilities.
What it loses in its convoluted narrative punch is capped by a glamorous, tense stand-off of a finale, eschewing city-wide chaos for a controlled, contained struggle inside Kyoto Station. Iris and Gamera burst through the snappy architectural walls, keeping the combat close, encapsulating the idea that this is all personal. The damage, including bodies lifted from the ground in heavy explosions, came earlier; what matters now is smartly human in its scale, a concept maintained through those seamlessly integrated effects.
Gamera 3 is important for kaiju fandom and the genre as a whole, boldly choosing to try something fresh in a style of film restricted by its legacy. Even with an Eastern-flavored dash of narrative wonkiness, the jaw-dropping sights invigorate the men-in-suits concept, and that nothing should be held back for tradition. Respect is important, but so is moving forward.
Mill Creek releases Gamera 3 in two varieties: a two-disc trilogy box set and a stand-alone release for those who already purchased the first dual-movie Gamera Blu-ray. Both Iris releases are identical, cramming the disc with the feature film and three hours of extras pertaining to all the movies in this Heisei trilogy. Of course, that means shoving Gamera 3 onto a BD-25, giving it only 13GB to work with. That’s not enough.
Once again, the film grain is the great divider, causing an elevated appearance to a structure that should be mostly transparent. Close-ups, instead of being littered with fine detail, smear as motion occurs, the bitrate woefully inadequate when it’s required to keep up. It zaps some of the sharpness from the frame, giving G3 a slightly muted quality in terms of its definition. Mill Creek seems to be working from a pristine source (print damage negligible), but that source material doesn’t matter when it’s suffocated behind inadequate encoding.
There are plenty of positives; the resolution increase on its own enough to spur some life into this film at home. Ayana’s trips into the forest dwelling of young Iris are splendid (if compressed), the plants hearty in their detail, and the miniature work is certainly still a highlight. Individual signs are easily read, sharply rendered windows show no signs of aliasing, and the suits are marvelous. Rubber skin texture is easily found, and the destruction has no ill effects on the codec despite how complex it can be.
Colors have a pleasing brightness to them, greens hearty, reds bright, and flames stunning. Contrast will waver scene to scene for effect, certain shots dimming themselves as director Shusuke Kaneko sets a mood. The black levels lose their touch though, those scenes inside the cave as Ayana seeks the baby Iris washed out, or even carrying a blue tint that is insufficient in creating the needed depth.
The Shibuya assault should be the killer audio moment of the disc, the drama intense as flames rage and Gamera stomps. The surrounds within this DTS-HD Japanese mix certainly understand, performing their duty with flair. Fire sprouting up towards the camera travels heartily, and screams from scorched civilians are balanced to perfection. Gamera’s roar is an essential piece, enveloping the soundfield along with the boomy score.
Why then is the subwoofer dead? Explosions engulf the entire city, yet the low-end never kicks in and delivers that punch. Footsteps may catch a little bit, the rumble totally unsatisfactory to the point where it’s easy to believe something it wrong equipment wise.
Oddly, during the finale, something causes the LFE to spring to life, crunching metal and falling monsters hitting the ground with a brutal bump and assisting the sea of flames. A sequence set in the sky as jets make their move against the brawling kaiju is equally beefy, both in terms of the positional tracking and missiles hitting their mark in the subwoofer.
Quieter moments will spark ambiance too, from the sounds of forest life to the bustling city when it’s not under siege. Cars will pan to the sides and passer-bys chatting will reach the rears when needed. Note the English dub is only available via compressed via Dolby Digital, mixed so low (not to mention washed out) it’s nearly impossible to volume match the Japanese track.
The extras are all contained on a nearly three-hour block of video which can run straight through if you wish, or you can select from six different sections split between the trilogy. Guardian of the Universe has a raw behind-the-scenes segment, although it clearly has footage from the set of Iris. Another section is labeled Camera Tests & Special Effects, including location footage and set clips.
Attack of the Legion includes location footage and a documentary, Creating the Legion. For the third film, Awakening of Iris Remix is about an hour long, splicing in the finished human footage with incomplete effect shots, an interesting, engaging way to show the process. Some deleted scenes will follow, and then some Iris trailers.
Important to note are the subtitles. For the main feature, they’re simply awful and unfinished. Lines go missing, leaving reactions from another character baffling. They’re not “dubtitles” either, lines similar but not the same. Other subtitles disappear before their time, or come in too late making it confusing to know who is talking. News reports (of which there are many) are a lost cause, some lines left incomplete mid-sentence. In the extras, it’s much the same, random lines of on-set dialogue translated, some of the interviews or text left alone. Go figure.
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