Monday, July 02, 2007

[DVD] Ultraman Mebius & Ultraman Brothers (Urutoraman Mebiusu ando Urutora Kyôdai) (2006)


I grew up watching Ultraman on television, so much so that back then I can sing the theme song, in Japanese (of course not knowing exactly what it meant)! With so many variations on the Ultra heroes, it's actually quite easy for a kid to follow, with each episode having a different ugly monster wreck havoc on Earth (ok, make that Japan), and each time Ultra-whoever will transform himself, do battle through his kung-fu moves, until that red light on his chest blinks as an indication to stop monkeying around, and then he finishes the monster with his signature moves.

Ah, nostalgia! But what I did like about Ultraman, was indeed the intricate modelling done on the landscapes of Japan, and how they get so painfully destroyed by the monster imitating Gojira, or when our hero is on the receiving end of a smackdown to the ground. And the special effects, though so dated today, were really captivating to a kid those days. I have many fond memories of my collection of Ultraman figurines, which somehow mysteriously disappeared after cousins came visiting one afternoon many years back. Over the years, especially after television stopped airing updated episodes, Ultraman faded, but always had a special place inside my heart.

There were the new versions of late, what with Ultraman Tiga, Dyna and what have yous. I found their design to be un-Ultraman like, especially with their shades of blue. Watching some episodes didn't trigger my interest, so I did not pick up from where I left off. However, in celebration of 40 years since the creation of the very first Ultraman, a new movie (only released in disc format here) was spotted on the shelves, that of a certain Ultraman Mebius. While I thought his colour scheme was right, and the new kid on the block very nicely designed and pleasing to the eye, what caught my interest was the words "Ultraman Brothers", and in the same cover, you see the heroes of old, including Ultraman, Ultraman Jack, Ultraseven, and Ultraman Ace, together with Ultraman Taro and Ultraman Zoffy. Wow! But the barebones DVD coupled with its unattractive price put me off for a bit, until I saw a preview of it being shown on the television of an electronics shop.

And I was sold!

Confirming it with Richard that it indeed was from the same movie, I bought the DVD, and rarely do I pop it into the player immediately (I still have stacks of DVDs unwatched), but I did for this one. And I loved it tremendously, nevermind the kiddish plot and central theme of "the power of confidence can give you courage" kinda fortune cookie sayings.

For the uninitiated (as if I was an expert), Yi Lai is in the GUYS formation, one of those world wide policemen with snazzy equipment and vehicles to combat monsters that invade earth, but almost without a doubt never using such firepower given the presence of Ultraman. Yi Lai is Ultraman Mebius, and when called upon, he has this transformation device attached to his wrist to being him up to size. Mebius is quite athletic, and has a range of powers which this movie will introduce you to, coupled with a streak of green in his level of experience. After all, Mebius had selected to come to earth because he wanted to find out whatever happened to his brothers Ultraman, Jack, Ace and Seven.

The quartet had been living a life of seclusion of sorts in their human form, sacrificing their ability to transform in order to imprison a vicious monster. And you know what the best part is? The filmmakers got the ORIGINAL human actors to portray their aged counterparts, and fused some montage shots from their respective series of yesteryears! You just cannot get any more cooler or more authentic than that! Pure nostalgia flowing I tell you! And this lends some weight when the quartet had to counsel Yi Lai and dispense some tips and tricks to our new rookie protector of earth - we've been there, and done that!

Not to spoil the story (which isn't much anyway), the action sequences are to die for. Fans will recognize our respective heroes' signature killer moves, and after 40 years, CGI has crept into the movie in the depiction of our heroes' battles against the monsters, but that is not to say it's forgetting its man-in-a-rubber-suit heritage. You get the best of both worlds combined, with close-ups and more physical stunts done by stuntmen, and the more fantastical, in flight action rendered through computer graphics. It's pure eye-candy, and one which you're definite to watch on repeat!

This is a recommended must watch for all Ultraman fans out there, and I'm already eyeing the original series boxset which is currently still priced beyond my reach. Tears will flow when I watch those episodes I tell you! And Mebius does seem interesting enough for me to want to follow his exploits. So if anyone out there wanna get my a gift for whatever occasion, you probably know what to get me now, don't you? :P

The Code 3 DVD from Scorpio East does leave one wanting though. For a DVD touted as "40th Anniversary Movie Deluxe Edition", there are zero extras, which is a pity. Visual transfer does look a little grainy in the beginning, though it doesn't get obviously noticeable as the movie wore on, and it's quite unfortunate it's in a letterboxed edition versus an anamorphic widescreen transfer.

Audio is in either English or Japanese (Dolby Stereo 2.0), but for heaven's sake, stick to the original Japanese track. I have no idea who did the English dubbing, but it is the most awful piece of English you'll ever hear in your entire life. The voice acting was horrible, and sounded as if they've just learnt English as a language, with zero emotions, and had marbles in their mouths, much like how a robot would perform if asked to read a script. I'd say to really enjoy this, turn on the Japanese track, and if you can't understand Japanese, then turn on the subtitles for either English, Chinese or Malay.

And speaking of the subtitles, they aren't perfect too (or at least the English ones weren't), with some noticeable grammatical errors now and then, and laziness in part to punctuate their sentences correctly, especially those that require an apostrophe - sometimes it's included, other times it's not.

But minor gripes aside, don't let them ruin the movie experience. This must be watched on as big a screen as you can get. With a runtime of 1:32:34 split over a scene selection of 6 chapters, the menus are pretty plain, except for the main menu which has some animation on it showcasing the various transformation from man to the respective Ultramans. Stick around for the end credits too, as they will show more nostalgic scenes from the older series, as well as scenes of the 40th anniversary celebrations where cast past and present gather in the company of Ultramans.

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