[Ultra Blu] ウルトラQ Episode 1: ゴメスを倒せ! / Defeat Gomess!
Posted September 5, 2013 by Kevin P.
Legendary prehistoric monsters interrupt a tunneling operation in this, the first episode of Tsuburaya Productions’ seminal tokusatsu television series Ultra Q (ウルトラQ). Tsuburaya’s series may not have been the first to bring giant monster thrills to Japanese television screens (it was preceded by the obscure 1960 series Monster Marine Kong / 怪獣マリンコング), but it was certainly the first to do so with a cinematic flair to rival its big-screen Toho-produced contemporaries. Ultra Q was the most expensive Japanese television project of its time, and unlike its Ultra successors (which filmed in 16mm color) it captured its ambitious special effects thrills in crisp and stylish 35mm monochrome. The result is one of my favorite shows of its type, a series in the vein of The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits (another longtime personal favorite) whose subject matter always caters to the fantastic, and is often downright monstrous.
Produced 12th but aired on Janurary 2, 1966 as Ultra Q‘s introductory episode, Defeat Gomess (ゴメスを倒せ!) follows regular series protagonists – pilot, sci-fi writer, and mystery-hound Jun, co-pilot and understudy Ippei, and news photographer Yuriko (SAHARA Kenji, SAIJÔ Yasuhiko, and Ultraman‘s SAKURAI Hiroko respectively) as they investigate the strange goings-ons at a rail expansion project. One worker (ÔMURA Shinkichi!) has been driven to hysteria, claiming to have seen a monster in the tunnel the project is excavating, and a gigantic egg has been unearthed as well. A child privy to paleontology and local folklore, producing an ancient scrawl as evidence, offers the answer. The egg belongs to the prehistoric bird Litora, a creature destined to defend against the beastly Gomess, who has now been unearthed by the excavation. As the monstrous Gomess terrorizes the construction project, trapping Jun and Yuriko in the tunnel before digging its way outside, Ippei and the child make a desperate effort to awaken Litora, that it might fulfill its fateful purpose.
With only 24 minutes at its disposal Defeat Gomess! gets to the point and fast, tersely developing its mystery before devolving into wholesale monster mayhem. I certainly can’t complain. While Ultra Q had excellent talent at its disposal, frequently featuring cameos from notable Toho players in addition to its main cast, the real star of the series is its ambitious effects work - Defeat Gomess! is a prime example. In addition to some fine process photography to provide the necessary scale, the relatively small size (by daikaiju standards) of the episode’s warring monsters led to some impressive large-scale miniatures of the construction site, all of which are properly demolished in the ensuing scuffle. The monsters are accomplished through the usual methods of suitmation, wire-work, and puppetry, and to as good an effect as in the films of their time. Gomess may prove a sticking point for some, though I love him to bits. The role saw classic Godzilla performer NAKAJIMA Haruo donning some familiar digs – a heavily reworked version of the King of the Monsters’ ’64 suit, out on loan from Toho. Decked out in tusks and horns and with a new scaly hide in place of its trademark dorsal spines, Gomess has gone on to become an iconic character in its own right, memorable for its status as the first Ultra-monster if nothing else. The critter was written to reappear in the later Ultra Q episode The Rainbow’s Egg (虹の卵), but the unavailability of the source Godzilla suit – which had been returned to Toho by that time – led to the scrapping of that idea in favor of the new monster, Pagos (another refurbished suit, this time a reworking of the oft-reused Baragon).
Defeat Gomess! premiered to good ratings, raking in 26.5% of viewers in the greater Kanto area and 32.2% in Tokyo itself. I don’t find it unreasonable to imagine that a young KANEKO Shusuke may have been watching, every moment of Ultra Q‘s monstrous shenanigans indelibly imprinting itself on his 10 year old mind. The notion of monsters steeped in local lore and fated to do battle is a fixture of his ’90s Gamera series and his 2001 Godzilla outing as well, and one wonders if that notion might not have found its germinal inspiration right here.
Ultra Q was extensively restored and released to Blu-ray by Tsuburaya and Bandai Visual in 2011-12 in both original black and white and new colorized form – transfer and restoration was handled by Point.360, while the colorization was done by Legend3D (formerly Legend Films). The results of each speak for themselves, and are sampled in alternating fashion below. Individual volumes of Ultra Q on Blu-ray are now available in Japan, with the final two (of eight) releasing later this month.
Supplements on Volume 1 include the documentary Challenge to the Year 1966 (mostly in English!) on the series’ restoration and colorization, as well as textless opening credit montages for the three episodes (b&w or color), and teleplays for each presented as HD image galleries. Audio is Japanese in original monophonic or remixed stereo, both in uncompressed LPCM. Each episode is available in monochrome or new color, and encoded in Mpeg-4 AVC with average bitrates hovering between 26 (monochrome) and 30 (color) mbps. No English audio or subtitles are included on the dual-layer all region disc, and the volume commands a typically high price point (around $45).
A recent American DVD release from Shout! Factory, which licensed the series from Chaiyo by way of Golden Media Group, utilizes older masters of dubious quality and includes none of the Tsuburaya-produced supplemental content, but is both cheaper and subtitled.
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