Review for The Guyver
Would you believe that there was a time when I didn’t know what anime and manga was? Back in the early nineties, a pal and I scrabbled some change together and paid the local video shop a visit to rent out the latest blockbuster. As it was one of those small town rental stores, with just one copy of each video, it’s no surprise that the latest blockbusters were nowhere to be seen, and all that was left were the straight to video schlock. My eye fell on a cover with Luke Skywalker himself, Mark Hamill on. It looked vaguely sci-fi horror-ish, and we decided to give it a try. That was my one and only encounter with Mutronics, a decidedly bad film, in which Mark Hamill turned into a tortoise (it was VHS, it was hard to tell). I quickly put it out of my mind, and turned my attention to the Highlander TV series tape that we’d rented out alongside it.
It wasn’t until years later, once I’d got into the whole anime thing, that I learned of The Guyver, and it wasn’t until I reviewed the remake of the original series, Guyver: The Bioboosted Armor, and wandered over to IMDB for some more info, that I learned that Mutronics was the European title of The Guyver, and it was actually an early US adaptation of a manga property. Now Hollywood is actively seeking out manga and anime for inspiration. Next year will see the release of Hollywood’s take on Ghost in the Shell. So perhaps it’s timely that Arrow Video have picked up The Guyver for Blu-ray release. I certainly look forward to re-evaluating the film given what I now know about the Guyver property.
Sean Barker is your average wimpy All-American kid. His heart’s in the right place; he’s taking Aikido classes to man up, although he’s not too good at learning, especially when he keeps being distracted by Mizky Segawa, the cute girl he’s really into. This time it’s her talking to an older man that leaves him with a bloody nose through inattention, and he winds up following them after class. The older man is CIA agent Max Reed, and he’s there to inform Mizky of her father’s death, to take her to where his body was found. Dr Tetsu Segawa worked for the Kronos Corporation, which Reed is investigating, and had stolen a piece of alien technology called the Unit to bring to Reed. Only Kronos’ boss Balcus had sent his henchmen after Dr Segawa. In desperation, he hid the Unit before he was killed. And now it’s Sean Barker who’s just stumbled upon this alien piece of technology, which has transformed him into the ultimate human bioweapon, the Guyver. But Balcus still wants it back.
The Guyver gets a 1.78:1 widescreen transfer on this disc, and it’s a clear and sharp transfer, with good detail, strong blacks and vivid contrast for a film set mostly at night. There’s a filmic level of grain, perhaps a little too strong indicative of the film’s vintage. I have to say that this might be one time where the VHS experience is actually preferable to the Blu-ray, as the low resolution hides a multitude of production value sins. This looks like a movie where the budget went on the Guyver suit, which I have to admit looks fantastic, detailed, organic, and faithful to the original manga. The transformation effects too have some visual appeal to them, but once those Zoanoids are complete, it’s here where things begin to let the side down, with some really quite laughable and obvious monster suits. There’s also some awkward edits, and odd framing. It turns out that this is the Director’s Cut, and it lacks some of the gore and violence of the VHS release.
You have the choice between DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround English, and PCM 2.0 Stereo English, with optional subtitles. There’s not a lot in it, with the surround track pretty front focused for the most part, with just a little bit of action and ambience shifted to the rear. The dialogue, such as it is, is clear enough, and the action sequences come across well. The music is execrable, sounding like the MIDI music my old 486 PC used to pump out 20 or so years ago.
The disc boots to an animated menu.
On the disc the main extra is an interview with the film’s producer, Brian Yuzna. This lasts 8:50 and is presented in 1080i. You also get three sets of image gallery slideshows, taking a look behind the scenes, at some figurines, and promotional artwork (a lot of Mutronics VHS covers). Finally there are the US and German trailers.
The first run of this Blu-ray release will also get a booklet with the film.
I had completely forgotten that I had slated the Guyver: The Bioboosted Armor anime when I reviewed it. It makes watching The Guyver live action movie a bit of a meaningless exercise, as the last thing I would want is for it to ‘live up’ to its anime counterpart. All that’s really left is to hope that it comes off better the second time around on its own merits. Although failing that, there is the slim possibility that The Guyver turns out to be one of those films that are watchable just because they are so bad.
One thing that I was surprised by was just how faithful The Guyver is to the original story. Most US adaptations of manga and anime are often accused of watering down the source material, and altering the ethnicity of the cast. The latter is something of a politically correct warcry these days, which doesn’t take into account that these stories wind up localised for a target audience. Naturally with the Guyver set in the US, the majority of the characters are going to be American, including the protagonist Sho Fukamachi, who in the film becomes Sean Barker. On the other hand, his girlfriend is still Mizuki Segawa (spelt Mizky in the credits). But the impressive thing is that The Guyver sticks closely to the original’s back-story, explaining the alien experiments creating humans and the Zoanoids, and The Guyver being a bio-armor that increases its wearer’s powers one hundred-fold. The Kronos Corporation also makes the transition intact, experimenting on Zoanoids, alongside its leader Balcus, the Zoalord wanting to augment his powers with the Guyver. Of course most of this is set out in a text scroll at the start of the film, and is never explicitly stated in the film itself.
As for the film, it is pure b-movie schlock. The direction is unimpressive, the performances are really quite poor for most of the cast, ranging between amateurish and scenery destroying, and the writing is appalling. Hard bitten gumshoe cliché, CIA agent Max Reed shows up to tell Mizky her father’s dead, and to make sure she gets the message, he drags her to the crime scene, where forensics are peeling what’s left of his melted mutated corpse from the concrete. He then takes her home to grill her some more on her late father’s business. Sensitive chap, Mr Reed. Although the grief isn’t too overwhelming for Mizky as she still manages to save time to make googly eyes at Sean, before their romantic interlude is interrupted. As for Sean’s affections for Mizky... when it begins with jealousy of Max’s attention to her, and then Sean stalks them both to the death scene (where he discovers the Unit), it doesn’t exactly play too well either. I doubt very much that The Guyver is highlighted on Mark Hamill’s filmography.
Thankfully, The Guyver really does fall into the ‘so bad it’s good’ category. The production values for the Guyver costume itself are really quite high, and some of the Zoanoid transformation sequences are better than the Zoanoid suits themselves. And while the performances may not be too hot, there are a host of recognisable faces in the film, not least the inimitable Michael Berryman, as chief Zoanoid henchman, Lisker. Jeffrey Combs also has a small role, and manages to be brilliant in it. The Guyver is the kind of film that is best watched with a handful of mates, all liberally lubricated by just enough lager to slightly dull the wits, reduce the critical faculties, and enhance the appreciation of silliness. Come to think of it, that’s how we watched The Guyver/Mutronics the first time around.