Monday, February 1, 2010
Ultraman: The Adventure Begins (1987) review
Overall verdict: 7.5/10
The Good: Great animation for a 1980s show, exceptional voice acting, well developed romance subplot, takes full advantage of the animation medium
The Bad: inconsistent art and animation at some parts, story style might feel to "western", legal DVD copy is practially non-existent
Current Availability Status: Non-existent. Internets(youtube) is your best friend.
Though its not the first time Ultraman has been done in animated form, this is the first time that an Ultraman show has been done outside of Japan(yes this series precedes Ultraman: Toward the Future by a couple of years). Ultraman: the Adventure Begins is a Japan/USA co-production which proves that animation might have been the better way to go in order to fully flesh out epic battles between monsters and giants. No longer encumbered by goofy looking rubber suits, laughable special effects and other limitations of live action, this short lived TV movie allows the concept that is Ultraman to be fully realized.
The movie starts off with a team of stunt pilots called the "Flying Angels" consisting of Scott, Chuck, and Beth, performing death defying aerial acrobatics. During a mid flight accident, they are caught in a bizarre flash of light and crash, only to emerge unharmed. It is soon revealed through a mysterious contact that the trio have now become the host bodies of warriors from a far away galaxy, M78, who were sent to capture escaped monsters that have arrived on Earth. They become the Ultra Force under the guidance of an old golf course groundskeeper(who is actually an intergalactic peace keeper agent), and assisted by 3 robots, Andy, Samson and Ulysses. From their headquarters within Mount Rushmore they respond to any sightings of monster attacks across the globe. If a monster proves too tough to take down by conventional means, one or more of the team is required to transform into an Ultraman(or UltraWoman in the case of Beth), a powerful red and silver giant, to battle the evil threat.
(yes. believe it. UltraWoman. )
The first thing anyone would be blown away by is the look of the show. Sure is hard to believe that the animation was done by the same company that did Flintstones, Jetsons and Scooby Doo. The level of art detail is astounding with full shadows, metallic sheen, and dark/light contrast. Dynamic shot angles and some creative storyboarding adds to the dramatic effect and impact of the intense battle sequences. Too bad the rich, detailed art comes at a price, which in this case is the animation. The frame rate is inconsistent with many shots looking only as well animated as a modestly budgeted anime TV series. There are a few good "money shots" like the Ultra Transformation sequences, some aerial fighting scenes and the signature "finishing moves", but other than that, the animation is mediocre at best. There are points where the animation takes a turn for the better, but this time at the cost of a lower amount of art detail.
The characters are likable with great personalities given form by a excellent voice cast assembled by Casting director Andrea Romano(who would go on to cast and direct the critically acclaimed Batman Animated series and other DC animated series). The three robot sidekick characters might remind one of Alpha 5 from Power Rangers but they are a lot more helpful to the team; not just giving combat strategies and advice but also actively helping the Ultra force when they are in trouble, as opposed to Zordon's irritating little desk clerk. They are also great in lending some lighthearted comic relief at the appropriate times.
Story-wise the show keeps many of the usual Ultraman staples but is blessed with a more competent script, a romantic subplot and stronger adherence to the whole science fiction setting of the series. It definitely has the feel of a "saturday morning cartoon" but written for teenagers, which fits in well with the animated nature of the show and does not take away from the overall entertainment value. The limitless potential of animation is fully exploited allowing the writers to feature monsters that would have been near impossible to realise in live action, such as a plant creature that regenerates its limbs or a beast that grows twice its size every hour.
It was a huge pity that this TV movie, quite obviously a pilot movie for a potential animated series, was never followed through. Instead it descended into obscurity, appearing only on a few TV broadcasts, bootleg video tapes and most recently, youtube. Despite such wasted opportuniy, Ultraman: The Adventure Begins is truly THE show to watch for some good giant vs monster action. Viewers of all ages young and old, Ultraman fans or just cartoon addicts, would get a real kick out of viewing this.
Go For it: If you want to experience a lost gem of 80s animation. Afterall its on youtube.
Avoid it: if you absolutely cannot accept "Ultraman" unless its done with live actors in goofy suits.
Voice work: A
Replay Value: C
The 3 stooges. Robo versions.
From left to right: Ulysses, Andy, Samson.
"ME WANT ICE CREAM!!!"
One of the first monsters encountered by the Ultra Force
USA Producer: "Won't a plant monster with regenerative capabilities be so cool?"
Japan Producer: "yessss.......coool. But only if UltraGirl fight him"
(result of Japan Producer's decision on next pic)
A Plant monster was a great idea...
Japan Producer: "But its a monster and she's an alien robot. Nothings wrong with a little tentacl..."
USA Producer: "You sick DUDE! you do NOT wanna go there.........'
Thankfully they did not go there and the show kept its PG rating.
Wait. Let me try out my new bat-signal searchlight.
Chuck's Ultraman form.
Dammit! I want a word with the japan producer!
Beth's UltraWoman form
I'M-A CHARGING MY LAZOR!!!
Scott's Ultraman Form