Friday, December 11, 2009
Ultraman Towards the Future (1990) review: ... and a bright Future it is...
Overall series verdict: 7.5/10
The Good: Great acting, intriguing story, epic monster battles, lovable characters and special effects that are ahead of its time.
The Bad: Some issues with bad usage of green screen effects and moments of over-acting.
Current Availability status in Singapore: A few imports from japan and hong Kong available in privately owned shops.
Ultraman Toward the Future is the first live action Ultraman series NOT produced in Japan. This marvelous entry into the much loved Ultraman Mythos was an Australian production which was easily years ahead of its time. The likable cast of characters and top notch special effects coupled with a well crafted story makes "Ultraman Toward the Future" one of the best Ultraman series in existence.
Originally recorded in English, The story starts of very mysteriously and the 2 plot arcs unfolds across 6 episodes per arc over 12 episodes only in total. In the first story arc, Jack Shindo and Stanely Haggard are members of the first manned expedition to Mars where they encounter a giant slug-like monster, Gudis. They are rescued by the mysterious silver and red giant ULTRAMAN but not before Gudis escapes to earth in the form of an alien virus and Stanley is presumably killed. To ensure Jack Shindo does not die on Mars, Ultraman joins with Jack, allowing Jack to summon the heroic giant whenever all hope seems lost. On earth He joins the UMA organization in order to help them battle the monsters created by the Gudis virus. The story is very well plotted and does not drag.
There is a fair amount of human drama and a little comic relief thrown in but does not detract from the overall dark feel of the story. Every character is fully fleshed out and immediately likable. One can develop an emotional connection with each of the characters, from the hot headed Jean Echo to the "straight to business" base commander Arthur Grant. The actors are mostly Australian but are of mixed ethnic heritage and manage to pull off different accents, lending to a very diverse look for the main cast. Ultraman is not longer just a plot device to defeat the monster but a character onto himself who converses with Jack and helps him to deal with more subtle problems. He even dishes out some philosophy once in a while.
Each episode deals not only with a monster but with very down to earth themes that anyone can relate to. Themes like a child dealing with divorce, family neglect, and the importance of trust are interspersed with enough plot twists and intrigue that put some crime dramas out there to shame. The second half of the series even boasts some environmental cautionary tales with a overarching subplot of the earth trying to fight against the humans who have polluted it.
Those still suffering from traumatic memories of rubber pillows with eyes that pass off as monsters wrestling with a red and silver rubber man, fear not! The monsters are not just men in suits like the Japanese series but a mix of man in a suit, puppetry and props. Close-ups make use of still-props of, for example, the monster's head or foot, which allows a greater level of detail. Puppetry is used to give the monsters a more organic feel, to give life to tentacles, antenna and wings instead of just letting them flop to the side like in the Japanese series. The special effects used for the powers are astounding. They look better than Power Rangers which came out 3 years after this show and just as good as Ultraman Tiga, which came out 6 years after this. The fight choreography doesn't make use of quick cuts, but rather, the director(Andrew Prowse, who would go on to direct a number of episodes of the popular sci/fi series "Farscape") uses long panning shots from the ground level upward to give a grand feel and a sense of scale to the giant monster battles. Close ups are only used when necessary for dramatic effect.
Ultraman's design in this show is also a real treat. It Keeps true to the spirit of the original without any added gimmicks while creating a great looking character in its own right. This Ultraman is visibly bulkier and more muscular than the previous ones, looking more like a comic book hero than ever before. The miniatures are very intricately and realistically built and it helps that shots of miniatures are inter cut with shots of real cities. The Hummer flying scenes can look a little weird at times though due to the use of green screen against a stationary hanging model instead of real time puppetry.
Unlike power Rangers, "Ultraman Towards the Future" proves that giant monster defender shows of this sort can go beyond just brainless action and have an intelligent story with themes both simple and complex for children and adults. It even teaches good morals. The action is well paced and special effects are revolutionary for its time. A pity it only ran for 12 episodes.
A great jumping on point for anyone looking to get into the Ultraman fandom.
Replay value: B