Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 29, 2020)
When 1965’s Gamera the Giant Monster turned into a hit, a sequel became inevitable. Daiei Studios wasted no time in their pursuit of a second chapter, and this meant 1966’s Gamera vs. Barugon hit screens less than five months after the original film’s debut!
When we last saw Gamera the giant fire-breathing turtle, he’d gotten shot into space. However, a meteorite impacts the ship that carries Little G and sends the reptile back to Earth. Coincidentally, Gamera winds up right back in Japan again, and he resumes his usual path of destruction.
In the meantime, mercenaries try to retrieve a massive opal from a cave on a South Pacific island. This turns out to actually be an egg, one that spawns a vicious monster called Barugon. With this threat unleashed, a conflict between Gamera and Barugon seems inevitable.
Especially since the movie’s title calls it Gamera vs. Barugon. It’d seem like commercial suicide to award the film that name and then never put the two into violent conflict.
Which seems like an inevitable path for the franchise, especially given its status as a Godzilla knockoff. The first Gamera heavily echoed the plot to 1954’s Godzilla, and by the second Godzilla flick, our favorite enormous lizard did battle with a monstrous foe.
Subsequent Godzilla tales followed the same template, so it made sense that the Gamera series would emulate these. I don’t fault those behind Gamera, as it seems like a natural progression. You can get away with People vs. Big Old Monster once or twice but after that, you need a more formidable opponent.
At least this means Barugon doesn’t just rehash the plot to the first movie. Whether or not one feels the film offers a good narrative becomes a different matter, but we do find a tale that diverges from its predecessor, and I regard that as a positive.
I admit I went into Barugon with some reluctance. As I noted in its review, I didn’t much like the first Gamera, and I initially planned to bail on the franchise then and there.
However, I saw a trailer for 1980’s Gamera: Super Monster and thought it looked so whacked-out that it deserved a look. After that, I felt curious to check out 1995’s reboot Gamera: Guardian of the Universe because I thought a more modern take on the character might work.
Initially I intended to move on after Guardian, but curiosity again nagged at me. Given the 1965 movie’s success, I thought it possible that the studio could capitalize on the character’s potential and maybe fix some of its drawbacks.
Thus Barugon ended up in my Blu-ray player, and it does improve upon its predecessor in some ways. For one, they shot this one in color, and for another, it shows superior visual effects.
Not that this means it brings us good visual effects, as the work seen in Barugon remains iffy, even for its era. Plenty of tacky “dudes in suits” shots abound, and the models they destroy don’t seem convincing.
Still, the effects move in the right direction, and I do think Barugon offers a sense of style absent from the first film. We get a sense of professionalism and production values that may not excel, but it offers a clear step up over the bargain basement fare of the prior flick.
Barugon also comes with a more ambitious story due to the involvement of the mercenaries. Whereras the first movie offered basic “monster comes back to life and causes havoc” tale, this one opts for something moderately more complex, and it restores the cautionary elements found in the original Godzilla.
That one alluded to the dangers of the atomic age, and Barugon manages a minor sense of commentary as it paints the mercenaries as interlopers who go where they don’t belong. This doesn’t turn into the same deep level of context found in Godzilla, but it adds a bit of complexity.
On the other hand, the plot thread with the mercenaries doesn’t really seem all that necessary in the end. They exist as an expository device to release Barugon, and their portion of the film fills an awful lot of screen time.
The film starts with a quick flashback to the first movie and then shows Gamera’s return to Earth. We get a few scenes of destruction before we meet the criminals at a little past the flick’s five-minute point.
This leads us into a very long sequence that follows the mercenaries’ exploits. The egg doesn’t reveal Baby Barugon until more than 30 minutes later, and the monster doesn’t turn into a violent force until 41:30.
As such, Gamera doesn’t actually encounter Barugon for quite a while. The pair finally connect around the 54-minute mark, which feels way too long given the battle promised in the title.
Granted, Barugon runs 100 minutes, so in theory, the decision to go monster vs. monster around the halfway point makes sense. However, that choice would feel more logical if they’d created a shorter movie.
100 minutes doesn’t turn this into an epic, but given the 1965 film only went 78 minutes, it seems like a considerable elongation, especially given the simplicity of the premise. No one who goes to a movie called Gamera vs. Barugon wants much more than basic creature against creature mayhem.
Of course, we expect some level of exposition and character development among the humans. However, it seems like a mistake to extend those elements for nearly half of a 100-minute film, as it occasionally feels as though we’ll never get to the violence.
When Barugon does pursue the monster battles, it improves considerably. Sure, the effects remain fairly cheesy, but the film stages the fights pretty well, so they offer some action fun.
However, the initial Barugon/Gamera conflict doesn’t last very long, and then we head back to more melodrama among the humans. While we didn’t invest much in the first movie’s characters, we find ourselves even less attached to the participants here, so the flick drags badly whenever we return to them.
Which seems like a shame, as Barugon could’ve been a more compelling movie. Even with the dull character spots, it boasts enough monster action to occasionally come to life, and I appreciate the more somber, serious vibe. It just needs tighter editing to more fully succeed.