I am currently on an extended vacation right now...yay! I've been doing nonstop work pretty much the entire first week, but I have been keeping my word about watching a movie a day from a pre-selected stack of Blurays and DVDs.
So far I've watched movies like Rocky Horror Picture Show (Janet! Dr. Scott! Janet! Brad! Rocky! ...), Shock Treatment (Goddamn I love the music in this movie, especially the title song), Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie (I still need to go through the insane amount of extras), Blade Runner, Deadfall (I genuinely feel bad for any actor that is opposite Nicolas Cage when he goes off the rails...this is probably the Cagiest he ever got. HI-FUCKING-YA!!), and a little movie called Gunhed.
Gunhed is a 1989 Toho film based off of an idea for the sequel to the 1984 Godzilla reboot. The original idea was Godilla fighting a computer...meh. Luckily Godzilla was removed entirely, the script was heavily reworked in a way that allowed a new world to be created--and Gunhed was born.
So why am I spotlighting this movie on my blog? Why am I not talking about Lady Battle Cop or Kamen Rider The First or any of the other movies I threatened to review a little while back? Let's find out.
The film begins with some helpful backstory...
After this, the narration kicks in with the introduction of an island called 8JO. In 2005 Cybortech Corporation created a 400-floor self contained robotics complex powered by a supercomputer called Kyron 5. Kyron 5 deems humanity unnecessary and declares war on the 4th of July in 2025. Kyron 5 created and used Aerobots to fight the humans, who in turn used Gunheds to fight back. After a yearlong battle, the Gunhed Battalion was able to defeat the Aerobots and effectively shut down Kyron 5, with 8JO becoming an abandoned restricted zone.
The story begins in 2039 with a band of scavengers descending on 8JO looking for materials. After they land, they notice the burning remains of an empty Texas Air Ranger ship. They decide to proceed anyway, even though they know the island is riddled with traps and other security features.
As they enter the tower, the group of scavengers is killed off one by one until only Bebe and Brooklyn, the crew's mechanic with a deep fear of piloting, remain. They encounter Nim, who is the only surviving Texas Air Ranger. They eventually make it into the Kyron Dome on Level 390 in their search for Texmexium. Bebe is held prisoner inside a Biodroid while Brooklyn and Nim make off with the Texmexium, narrowly escaping an Aerobot attack.
Bebe trapped inside the Biodroid
As it also turns out, they discover that in it's dormancy, Kyron 5 has been working on a way to manufacture Texmexium which would make it even more powerful than before. This gives Brooklyn motive to not only escape, but to defeat Kyron in the process.
After a lot of work, Brooklyn is able to get Gunhed operational but only at partial capacity. The Texmexium is recovered by the Biodroid from Nim, which gives Brooklyn the courage to pilot Gunhed after listening to the attack over the radio.
On his way to the dome, Brooklyn faces many obstacles which force him to have to make repairs to Gunhed on the fly. Seven, Eleven, and Nim all make it to the Dome. Eventually Brooklyn faces off against the Aerobot, which Gunhed knows is a suicide mission. Gunhed fights off Aerobot in Standing Mode (as he requested) and is able to destroy two of the three eyes of Aerobot before telling Brooklyn to abandon ship. Brooklyn hops out just before Gunhed storms Aerobot leading to both getting badly damaged. Brooklyn then uses Gunhed's detached arm to destroy Aerobot's remaining eye causing it to explode.
Brooklyn enters the dome in time to save Nim from the Biodroid. Bebe, who is still trapped inside the Biodroid, helps out by detonating a grenade which blows up herself along with the Biodroid. Nim reveals to have saved the Texmexium, which she gives to Brooklyn as they are reunited with Seven and Eleven. Just as Seven asks what happened to Gunhed, the self-destruct countdown begins. The remaining core of Gunhed launches his boosters to propel himself into the Kyron core, which is able to postpone the self-destruction of the core long enough to escape to the plane. Gunhed's last words to Brooklyn are "OK, Brooklyn. Let's Rock.".
As they escape the exploding 8JO, they receive a final message from Gunhed saying that the Gunhed Battalion has completed it's mission. Nim turns to Brooklyn and asks "Wanna drive?" to which he smiles.
On paper, that movie might not sound too spectacular or even original. I mean, even after watching it...the story feels like Tron meets Terminator. You have the machine apocalypse-hellscape vision of the future while being trapped inside said machine. So yes...the plot, at a glance, was a bit worn out by the time 1989 rolled around.
So it sucks, right?
You must see this movie. You must see this movie NOW if you haven't already. If, like me, you haven't seen this movie in awhile...go back and rewatch it.
I said it was almost a cross of Terminator meets Tron, right? Well those are two movies that I absolutely love. I have been incredibly fond of Tron since I was a kid and Tron Legacy did not disappoint me even a little bit (OK, maybe the dude playing Sam could've been a tad more engaging). Terminator...well, we all know and love that movie along with T2. In fact, I would even say this was T2 *before* T2 in a way. They were in a pretty hopeless situation against the Aerobot and Biodroid until they had a robot protector (Gunhed) of their own. It's even been said that James Cameron is a fan of this film...hmm...
Toho really knocked it out of the park visual wise. I am verrrrrrry picky when it comes to Sci Fi and Fantasy movies. This might sound surprising, but I'm not a fan of the genre at all. I have a very hard time immersing myself in another world. Going back to Tron and its sequel, those are two movies I completely got lost in. Gunhed felt the same way. I found myself inside this world thanks to the incredible sets as well as probably the most convincing model work I think I've ever seen in my entire life. In fact, I can only really think of two bluescreen moments that stick out.
I also have to say this about the Gunhed design...it's amazing for all the right reasons. It is a little difficult to make out details, but I think that adds a bit of allure to it. If Gunhed were in broad daylight, it would look kind of weird I suppose. The dark environment is the finishing touch on the Gunhed design. Tank Mode is pretty cool, too...but I totally understand why Gunhed wanted to go on his suicide run in Standing Mode.
There is a little bit of weirdness attached to this film. I had to remove myself from myself to really notice this but if you watch the film in Japanese you're really getting the native audio track. What that means is that the half of the cast that speaks English, speaks English while the Japanese half speaks Japanese. As the cast gets whittled down to our four leads and Gunhed, that means that you have Brooklyn, Eleven, and Seven all communicating with Nim and Gunhed no problem even though they're speaking two different languages. Maybe Japan and America have become part of some kind of supernation in 2039 where we all understand each other but choose to speak in our own tongue to keep our identities? I don't know... This is something I encountered a lot back when I would search out uncut versions of Jackie Chan movies in the early days of DVD. If you REALLY want to see a mess of languages, check out the uncut version of his movie Thunderbolt.
I should mention that I did watch this film on DVD. The DVD I have is by ADV, which has since bit the dust since this DVD was printed. They did a nice job on this disc, as they always did including the English dub and Japanese version with optional subtitles. The English dub...isn't terrible, I admit. When I did my second run of the movie (for screencaps) I left the English dub on and only noticed that some of the music cues were changed for some reason as well as the end credit song being completely omitted. During the credits I noticed that the English dub was actually completed in 1989...which leads me to my next point.
What were the plans for this film? I always get curious when a studio breaks the norm and tries something wildly different. Toei has been in a rut so long that they've never done anything surprising (Changerion is probably the last concept they had......and that was 1996). Tsuburaya has tried various new and creative projects, but they either still seem to be tethered to Ultraman or thinly veiled Ultraman variants. Toho is really the only studio that tries new things. Gunhed might have had roots as a Godzilla sequel, but outside of the model work it is a pretty radical and fresh idea. They must have thought so too since the dub for it was ready for release. In time it was given an international release, but I think it has kind of been...not even a slow burn...maybe a 25-year warm glow.
Admittedly I have seen this movie in the past. This is very rare, but I have no recollection of when I saw it or really what my impression was at the time. I can usually pinpoint the date (and what I was wearing at the time) that I saw any movie for the first time, but Gunhed has just escaped me as I think it has with an audience that would casually appreciate it versus anyone who has willingly sought this movie out after hearing that "Toho did this other thing once...". In all fairness, the trailer didn't really inspire much of anything. I had a really hard time telling what was going on in it until I watched the movie again.
I guess the best thing to do is end this thing on some rapid fire thoughts...
-Gunhed has an awesome voice. Dude is smooth as hell.
-The acting isn't terrible in this movie, but maybe a little more urgency would've helped.
-They wisely left out what everyday life is like on Earth in the future. Take that, Back To The Future Part II! 8JO was probably way more interesting anyway! Maybe not the bleakness of Waterworld, but probably not a whole lot better...
-Why "Seven" and "Eleven" for the kids names? -_ -
-There are Famicom and PC Engine games for Gunhed, but they really look like they have nothing to do with the movie...especially the PC Engine version...
-Come to think of it, I think Cameron DID lift some ideas for T2!
S.H. Monsterarts Gunhed, Bandai. Get on it! I know you're reading this!
Seriously, give this movie a watch. It really does hold up. Very few Tokusatsu features truly deserve a second chance as much as Gunhed does.
P.S. I deliberately didn't talk about the music. I ordered the soundtrack...which I will be reviewing soon.