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ULTRAMAN
Series One, Volume One

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Susumu Fujita, Susumu Kurobe
Creator:  Eiji Tsuburaya
Audio:  Dolby Mono
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  BCI
Features:  See Review
Length:  450 Minutes
Release Date:  July 18, 2006

“Ultraman will save us!”

Shows *** (on the cult scale)

Boy, do I remember Ultraman.  In fact, one of my fondest memories was watching it on TV at a friend’s house, who pointed out that if you clicked on ‘zoom’, you could see the zippers in the costumes.

But that was part of the goofy charm.  Created by Eiji Tsuburaya, the man who made Godzilla possible, Ultraman brought cheesy special effects, big monsters, miniature sets and psuedo-scientific fun first into Japanese living rooms in 1967, and eventually into American ones as well.

It follows the Science Patrol and their unbelievably loud orange suits in their effort to protect Japan from all kinds of freaky monsters who looked mysteriously like actors wearing rubber foam costumes.  In the opening episode, Hayata (Kurobe) is following a mysterious craft from space, when a second craft crashes into his ship and kills him.

But not for good…the occupant of that second craft was a gigantic intergalactic superhero known as Ultraman.  He was in pursuit of a monster heading toward Earth when he accidentally killed Hayata.  To make amends, he offers Hayata his life force…and a Beta Capsule that he could use in dire situations in order to become Ultraman.

And let’s face it…the series was fraught with dire situations.  Week after week some new monster arrived, trashed some Erector Set models, and gave the Science Patrol hell until Hayata went into action as Ultraman.  A few body slams and cosmic rays later, and the day was saved.  But of course, not without a reminder of that flashing solar indicator on Ultraman’s chest…yes, friends, if the light ever goes out, then Ultraman will be depleted of energy and finished.

For us kids, it was such wide-eyed imaginative fun that we never minded that every episode was pretty much by-the-numbers same.  Or that the effects weren’t even quite up to Thunderbirds standards.  Or, yes, even that you could zoom in and see the damned zippers.

This Series One Volume One set chronicles the first 20 episodes of the legendary sci-fi show, and looking at them with adult eyes, I certainly laughed a lot more than I did as a kid.  Tsuburaya may have created the ultimate kids’ show with Ultraman.  As goofy as it seems now, I certainly remember pretending to be the tall, lanky, silent hero.  I even converted a handy paper towel roller into a Beta Capsule for myself.

It was a kick to go back and revisit it.  I may have given up on being Ultraman and settled into Ultra Mild Mannered Film Critic, but hey…Ultraman can handle the monsters for us.  I’ll just try and save the world from bad movies.  Just help me keep an eye on my energy indicator, and if it starts flashing, nuke me some popcorn fast, would you?

Video **

There’s not much to speak of in the video department…what can you say for a four-decade-old Japanese show?  It shows its age.  Images are a bit soft and marginally detailed, and the prints certainly don’t match up to modern television.  But it works well enough…all in all, nothing meriting major complaints.

Audio **

We all remember the dubbed American TV versions…with this disc, you get the choice of that or original Japanese.  Normally I don’t prefer dubbing, but come on…that’s how I remembered the show!  And the bad dubbing was part of the fun.  The audio is fairly level without much dynamic range or demands, but again, it’s perfectly serviceable.

Features **

The features are all on the first disc…they include the made-for-U. S. opening title, interviews with the American actors who dubbed the voices, a navigable encyclopedia on the monsters of the series, and an 8 page booklet.

Summary:

Only 1960s Japanese sci-fi can make a fellow in a silver body suit with light bulb eyes so cool.  Ultraman proved that kids don’t need CGI and Steven Spielberg to keep us glued to our sets week after week.  Revisiting the series was more than a pleasant trip down memory lane.  It was a downright hoot.

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