Not unlike Toho studios' recent Godzilla epics, Gamera represents a reinvention of a timeworn movie franchise, freely borrowing elements from previous installments to make a fresh start and (presumably) inaugurate a new series of adventures. The plot finds the new and improved Gamera--a genetic creation designed by an ancient Atlantis-like civilization--defending Earth against the onslaught of the Gyaos, giant birdlike monsters determined to wipe out everything in their flight paths. There's human interest, too, in the form of a team of scientists struggling to uncover the mysteries of the monsters' origins, and a young girl who shares a psychic bond with our hard-shelled hero. It's all backed with environmental symbolism intended to make the city-stomping action a bit more resonant.
While not the equal of some of this decade's updated Godzilla vehicles, Gamera delivers the goods in time-tested Japanese monster movie fashion. Shinji Higuchi's special effects still employ intricate miniatures and charmingly designed monster suits. The results range from spectacular (Gamera's first appearance) to endearingly goofy (check on the crazed, giggling eyes on those Gyaos!), but even at its tackiest, his work is full of personality--a quality even the most expensive computer effects can't always deliver.
Gamera: Guardian of the Universe plays in a regular run as part of the new AMC Grand's "Gourmet Cinema" series. Located at 1-35 and Northwest Highway, the theater--the largest in North America--celebrates its grand opening this weekend.