Friday, July 10, 2020

Stargate Universe Season Two

As many know who visit here at Musings Of A Sci Fi Fanatic, I've been enjoying an entry by entry review of Season One of Stargate Universe (SGU).

A recent look at SGU, S1, E17, Pain and E18, Subversion inspired me to enjoy the rest of the series in succession. In other words, I really wanted to get to it and have a proper look at the series final season, Season Two.

For those who have read over my look at SGU, S1, Subversion the series had me concerned about its trajectory.

SGU was suddenly entangled with earthbound stories and being sucked into a story thread with the Lucian Alliance (a hold over from the days of SG1). For this viewer it was the least compelling storyline of the series in its first season of survival for the crew aboard Destiny. The SGU S1, two-part finale, E19 and E20, Incursion threw the crew of the Destiny up against the Lucian Alliance. It was indeed my least favorite portion of a mostly great first season. Despite the missteps at the end of Season One it was still expertly assembled and its merits are arguably debatable. One man's trash is another's man's treasure.

SGU, Season Two, E1, Intervention essentially concluded that Season One thread. Mercy.

This writer is relieved to report SGU, Season Two, despite some Lucian Alliance reverberations and echoes throughout, is nearly as compelling as its first season and perhaps more exciting. It was pure relief to find myself immersed in the series' journey and mystery aboard the Destiny once again. The exceptional handling of suspense and mystery of the first season was indeed salvaged with the infusion of potentially more thrilling moments for those who missed these elements within the Stargate franchise.

As the series wrapped up quickly with its final episodes E19, Blockade and E20, Gauntlet it broke my heart to see it go.

SGU, as a standalone science fiction series, was that good and had that much potential as Dr. Rush would suggest to young apprentice Eli Wallace.

In just 40 episodes of television the characters evolved amidst some beautifully filmed and often compelling science fiction. This large ensemble group of characters, an unruly mix of military and civilian, once working in a contentious, uneasy alliance in the first season even gradually grows to connect as family with a delicate, fragile trust, but with bonds formed nonetheless. Each character was not an easily identifiably, quantifiable being of good or evil. Each and everyone of them seemed, like most of us, human, infinitely capable of making good choices as much as bad ones or at least mistakes. As the journey continued the characters evolved and matured together slowly. This science fiction enjoyed populating the Destiny with interesting characters and a subtle examination of human behavior.

As many have often said about ABC series LOST (2004-2010), a show seemingly less about the mysteries of the island and more about the journey of a diverse mix of people thrown together for six fascinating seasons. The same can be said for those aboard the glorious ship that was Destiny.

The mythological mysteries of this series deepened as much as the characters as Destiny voyaged through space.

While the characters were richly written throughout the show in its comparatively short run to LOST, the visual effects were second to none. The Destiny herself, an important character to the show as much as Serenity was to Firefly (2002), is also deeply layered and and lovingly detailed as she herself unfolds and is revealed across two seasons like a tapestry.

As a whole, it was the relationship between the characters and the ship that is one of the most engaging components of the show as the characters discover her.

Gauntlet (E20), the series finale, was moving beyond words considering the brevity of the series and quite possibly one of the best series' finales penned given the circumstances. It was nearly as powerful as Unending (S10, E20) following Stargate SG-1's ten season run. The latter arguably more so given the length of that show's run and the chance its characters had to fill the hearts of audiences.

SGU we hardly knew you and yet experiencing these forty wonderful episodes we wish we knew you more and you had the chance to see through another three years of science fiction exploration aboard one of the most glorious ship designs ever created, the Destiny (on par with the Eagle of Space:1999 for this space ship fan).

Like the stars that powered her through the darkness of space, Destiny and Stargate Universe shined for two glorious years.

It's outright shameful, a crime, that Season Two has only seen the light of day on DVD and there has been no official release for the wonderful accompanying score of this show by the late Joel Goldsmith.

When a science fiction series works so completely with writing, story, casting, effects and score (LOST, Firefly) you have a winner. Add the understated, underrated Stargate Universe to the pantheon of the best.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Gamera Vs Gyaos

Director Noriaki Yuasa retook the reins of the Gamera franchise for Return Of The Giant Monsters, more commonly referred to as Gamera Vs. Gyaos (1967).

Following the high production values on kaiju underrated underdog and critically derided Gamera Vs. Barugon (War Of The Monsters), the second Gamera picture and the only one not directed by Yuasa, Yuasa returned with his wide-eyed enthusiasm and youthful love of all things Gamera as if looking at the creature through the lens of a child. The director was exceptional in his approach and his natural connection to the turtle monster ensured it did not take a backseat to Gyaos in terms of film time as he did in Gamera Vs. Barugon.

The concept of a beloved Gamera by children was introduced in Gamera's debut black and white film, Gamera, The Giant Monster (1965), then dropped for Gamera Vs. Barugon (1966). With Gamera Vs. Gyaos Yuasa was no holds barred in brining back the wide-eyed child love for Gamera that was sidelined for a film.

Production values are solid and largely the kind of kaiju fun one should embrace who has any heart and wonder at all.

Is it important that the Japanese technicians are trying to build a road in this latest tale before being introduced to the evil ray-slicing Gyaos? Gosh, Hell no!

The adventure begins when a child is imperiled by Gyaos a strange flat-headed winged creature. A hiker is eaten alive. A plane load of passengers is sliced in half and fall to their deaths. Some grisly stuff for 1967. Gamera comes to the rescue of the child, Eiichi, and saves the adorable, chunky, little Japanese boy, but not before taking some knife-slicing hits on his right arm several times nearly losing it.

Gushing good old-fashioned green kaiju blood Gamera escapes with the boy on his shell for a trusty kaiju version of a magic carpet ride. These child-friendly concepts taken further later in the year for Johnny Sokko And His Flying Robot (1967-1968; 26 episodes).

Gamera beats back Gyaos with his flame-projecting breath and even at one point retracts his legs and arms and rolls downhill straight at Gyaos. The feature is filled with fun, creative kaiju action.

What Gamera Vs. Gyaos does offer is a turtle with significant intelligence. The creature clearly demonstrates an equally mutual affection for the kids as he refrains from spinning through the air, lands and leans into a ferris wheel to dump off the young child into loving arms. That's one smart terrapin people!

Not only was this turtle a hell of a lot of fun to watch but Yuasa's franchise run influenced very early on many of those kid-friendly Godzilla pictures. The Godzilla franchise began infusing its own features with the child wonderment of the great lizard and even began incorporating some kaiju gushing violence to compete with those unique Gamera ideas.

Gamera's unabashed kaiju-gushing violence became a real trademark beginning with Gamera Vs. Barugon.

In the rogue's gallery of Gamera's villains Gyaos ranks among his most well known somehow surpassing the equally interesting Barugon and arguably surpassing, and surprisingly so, the fantastic Viras or Guiron from the menagerie. The strange looking bird creature seemingly part reptile comes off like a lower budgeted Rodan, but those big anime-like eyes give Gyaos a cartoonish, but intriguing allure. Gyaos would be reimagined and revisited for the Heisei period of Gamera and Gamera: Guardian Of The Universe (1995) relaunching the monster in a new film trilogy. The villain would return not as one, not two, but three separate Gyaos with one eventually evolving into a Super Gyaos.

The creature in this classic film is complemented by a terrific series of sound effects and the film itself is accented and enhanced by another outstanding Showa era soundtrack.

When the film culminates in its final act, the boy is naturally connected to Gamera who is at the bottom of the ocean healing his wounded arm. The boy intuitively knows this. Bypassing any scientific mumbo jumbo it is the boy who seems to understand the creature better than the scientists. He even names the creature Gyaos. The youngster determines the creature is nocturnal long before the eggheads. Who needs the W.H.O. (formed in 1948)? This kid is more in touch than the damn scientists and adults. These are quite possibly some of the dumbest overthinkers in kaiju history. Without that kid they would be lost. No wonder the W.H.O. is in trouble.

There are some comedic players in the entry too that keep things light with some wonderfully animated physical performances. A little more of it could have made the film more effective and even more fun.

In a major tussle between Gyaos and the great turtle, Gamera bites and tears off two of Gyaos toes. Meanwhile, Gamera is spurting green blood from a head wound and the two retreat for some healing time. This gives our dumb scientists time to ponder how dumb they are. Understandably they never figure that out.

Eventually, the scientists and military come up with quite possibly one of the most preposterous plans ever conceived to stop Gyaos, but somehow it works for a time. Eventually, the scientists move to plan B and try to snuff out Gyaos with a forest fire, but the bat-like bird creature proves resilient with its extinguishing gas. Nothing like scorched earth and total destruction to meet their ends.

Gamera proves elusive to Gyaos rays seemingly dancing around any direct hits save for Gamera's tail which is punctured and gushing.

It's a battle royale.

Gamera Vs. Gyaos keeps the gushing turtle soup coming in another memorable entry.

Writer: Niisan Takahashi. Director: Noriaki Yuasa.