Upbeat Cynicism

what do you mean i lost my mind?

Gammera the Invincible, 1966

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Ah, Gamera.

One of the major joys of Mystery Science Theater 3000 was the onslaught of Gamera movies (dubbed courtesy of Mr. Sandy Frank) in the third season. I saw every one they did, and have since seen at least one Gamera film that eluded them (the dubbing of that one provided, somewhat more competently, by American International Pictures).

But this, the first release of the first Gamera film to the American market, is a wholly different thing. It goes the Godzilla route, adding in American actors in scenes of no use to the plot at all. The only really good actor, Brian Donlevy, looks embarrassed — at least in those moments when he doesn’t seem to be daydreaming. This was strictly a paycheck gig for him, I’m sure, and it looks like his scenes were done in a day. The other American actors fare even worse, although I do have to say that the actual dubbing is pretty good.

Gamera, if you don’t know, is a giant flying turtle (the “flying” part is a big reveal in this movie, so I just spoiled you; sorry) who, rather than attacking Japan, usually protects Japanese children from other giant monsters that are attacking Japan. The seed for that formula is planted here, but it has not sprouted.

Not long after Gammera the Invincible begins, some soviet fighter jets stray into US territory near the arctic, and one crashes, accidentally detonating the atomic bomb it was carrying.

Now, okay, incredibly dumb things happening in a Gamera movie ((At least in the original run of Gamera films — there was a reboot of the series in the 1990s which was, apparently, spectacular. )) is more or less par for the course, but still. Flying near enemy territory that’s thinly populated (at best) with a LIVE FREAKING NUKE? What would be the point? Disrupting the Iditarod? Okay, anyhow.

The detonation awakens Gamera, who comes from a past age of the Earth, according to the dubbing he comes from the Precambrian Era(!!!). First, there is no way anyone could possibly have established a possible date of origin, given how little chance anyone has to study the big shell-guy. Second, nobody remarks at all on what consequences such a dating would have for evolutionary theory. A turtle the size of a small town would be, to put it mildly, just a tad more dispositive than a pre-cambrian rabbit.

Anyway, Gamera flies around the world a couple of times (getting mistaken for a flying saucer), and meanwhile, the movie follows the intimate drama of a young boy (not named Kenny, amazingly) who lives in a lighthouse with his sister and father, and has just been made to set free his beloved pet turtle.

The seed for the “Gamera is a friend to all children” theme is planted when Gamera messes up the lighthouse, and not-Kenny ends up hanging from a railing near the top, as the whole structure is about to crumble. Gamera saves the boy, gently putting him back on the ground. Not-Kenny decides that Gamera is really his best friend, and persists through the rest of the movie, even though he’s not really involved in it, he and his family just observe the rest of the goings-on.

Since Gamera keeps mucking up infrastructure, and is resistant to shells and missiles (not to mention that nuke that simply woke him up and put him in a sour mood), a plan is put in place to…

OK, remember how that nuke being armed was silly? Hang onto your hat, because this really, really outdoes that.

They entrap Gamera in the cone of a (gigantic, apparently) rocketship, and shoot him off towards Mars.

Everybody’s happy, Gamera’s still alive for a sequel, the end.

You’ll notice that I’ve only used the title’s spelling in the title, and otherwise have referred to Gamera with one “r”. I don’t have any real justification for that, except that every other Gamera movie does it that way, and I did not see this first.

Even as Gamera movies go, this wasn’t all that entertaining. No other monster, the Kenny is a subplot, at best (and a maudlin one). No funky kaiju Olympics. No Gamera theme music (though that might just be for this release; the original film may have the theme, and I don’t remember whether the Sandy Frank dubbing had it or not). It wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t all that satisfying either. It was, at best, cinematic comfort food, since I do love the other Gamera flicks, but it was low-grade even by that standard.


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