Sunday, 21 June 2009

Monster from a Prehistoric Planet (1967)

Monster from a Prehistoric Planet (original title Daikyojû Gappa, also released as Gappa the Triphibian Monsters) was the first (and I think the only) attempt by Japan’s Nikkatsu Studios to jump on the giant monster bandwagon. Made in 1967, it adheres fairly rigidly to the already well-established conventions of the genre.

The publisher of Playmate magazine (which despite the title is apparently not intended to be interpreted as a Japanese version of Playboy magazine) is building a luxury resort with a South Seas theme. He sends off an expedition to collect exotic animals to add the necessary atmosphere. They arrive at a remote island just as a volcano is erupting, and the eruption uncovers a gigantic egg millions of years old. The egg hatches, and the strange creature that emerges is taken back to Japan.

The natives inform them that it is a gappa. It looks like cross between a dinosaur and a plucked chicken, but in a cute kind of way. And it grows very fast. The big problem though is that gappas can communicate over long distances, and pretty soon the very irate gappa parents arrive, and naturally start destroying the nearest Japanese metropolis. All attempts to destroy the enraged monsters fail. Eventually the scientists realise they should have listened to the children, who knew the gappas just wanted their offspring back.

The movie has moderately impressive special effects and model work. It has Tokyo threatened with destruction. It has giant monsters crushing tall buildings. It has lots of explosions as military aircraft and tanks battle with the gappas. It has scientists and businessmen who are too arrogant to understand what they are doing and too stubborn to admit their mistakes. It has children with an instinctive understanding of enormous prehistoric monsters. It also has a young female photographer who is the only adult capable of understanding what needs to be done, and capable of feeling compassion for gargantuan city-destroying monsters.

The ending is sentimental but it works well enough. It’s a well-paced fun movie, and if you like these types of movies there’s not much to dislike about this one.

The DVD version I have is pretty rough. It’s fullscreen and the colours are rather washed- out, and the contrast is very poor. I believe there is a widescreen DVD release, which is probably worth seeking out if you’re a fan of this genre.

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