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ULTRAMAN: TOWARDS THE FUTURE Japanese Release Title: ULTRAMAN GREAT (URUTORAMAN GUREETO) Show Type: Tokusatsu Science Fiction/Fantasy Produced by Tsuburaya Productions and The South Australian Film Corporation Distributed in the US by Sachs Family Entertainment and broadcast on Fox Network: First Telecast: January 4, 1992 Last Telecast: March 28, 1992 Color, Film/Video 13 Episodes
Basic Plot: During a trip to Mars, astronauts Jack Shindo and Stanley Haggard witness a fight between two giants, a giant silver & red humanoid called Ultraman, and a giant sluglike tentacled creature called Gudis. During the battle, Stanley is killed by Gudis while escaping in the spacecraft (upon Jack's orders), but Ultraman is victorious. Although he destroys the Gudis, the alien creature evaporates into a green virus that rapidly streams towards Earth, thus beginning its invasion. Shindo, now stranded on Mars, stands face to face with the mysterious giant . . .
Back on Earth, the Gudis virus infects various lifeforms, controlling them and turning them into giant monsters! The only ones equipped to deal with the Gudis threat is the Universal Multipurpose Agency (UMA), a squadron with high-tech weapons and vehicles at their disposal. Led by Colonel Arthur Grant, the UMA team is ready to protect the Earth from the ravaging monsters. But all questions are answered when Jack Shindo mysteriously returns to Earth and, because of his amazing knowledge of the Gudis, is asked by Grant to join UMA. Jean Echo is the only member of UMA who was an aquaintance of his (and a possible love interest). Jack provides UMA with all the knowledge they need to cope with the Gudis monsters, but unbeknownst to them or anyone else, Jack uses the Delta Plasma Pendant to transform into Ultraman! The silver superman has merged his lifeforce with that of the Earthman, and has decided to stay on Earth to aid UMA in protecting it from Gudis, and all other possible threats.
The first show in the Japanese Ultraman series to be filmed in English, through the joint effort of Tsuburaya Prod. and the South Australian Film Corporation. This show was filmed in 1989 but didn't air in Japan or the US until late 1991 and ran several months through its first and final season. "Ultraman: Towards the Future" initially had a budget around $400,000 an episode--very substantial. This was intended by Tsuburaya Prod. to finance the usual Ultraman quota of about 50 episodes. However, all if not more of the budget was to be blown on the first 13 episodes, dooming "Ultraman: Towards the Future" early in production. (See bottom for additional notes.) Unlike the later "Ultraman: The Ultimate Hero" (or "Ultraman Powered," as it is called in Japan), "Ultraman Great" ("Ultraman: Towards the Future" in Japan) actually made it to national American television,* also spawning a line of merchandising that included a Dreamworks/Bandai line of action figures, vehicles and a playset, a Super Nintendo single-player fighting game, episode VHS tapes, and a comic book series from Nemesis Comics. "Ultraman Powered" on the other hand, despite being the first American-made Ultra series (Hollywood, USA), never made it in the US, rejected by networks such as Fox Kids and Kids WB. To date, "Ultraman Great" and "Ultraman Powered" are the only two English Ultra series risked by Tsuburaya Prod., which recovered from financial setbacks in 1996 with the radical introduction of a new, non-M78-based type of Ultraman, "Ultraman Tiga." Interesting to note about the "Ultraman" comic book series of 1993-1994, many ads were featured for the upcoming "Ultraman Powered" series and the comic made no distinction between the new series and the original "Ultraman Great" series on which it was supposed to be based. The Ultraman drawn in the comic, aside from looking more like a robot akin to "The Iron Giant," resembled more closely "Ultraman Powered." The two English series were very different, however. "Ultraman: The Ultimate Hero" was based on the original "Ultraman" (1966), using modified designs several original Ultraman monsters. "Ultraman: Towards the Future," on the other hand, was completely original and unrelated to the original "Ultraman." Ultraman Great doesn't even have his own version of the famous "Specium Ray."
*Similar to the method used to produce the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, "Ultraman: Towards the Future" was shot out of order. Dore Kraus (Jack Shindo) commented at a Kaiju Convention that this was very confusing, because the actors never really knew the whole story at any one time behind the scene they were acting. This and likely other factors contributed to mounting tensions between the "laid-back" Australian crew and the "uptight" Japanese crew. The final product was not really up to Tsuburaya standards--considerably a monumental waste of money. But Ultraman Great had no trouble fitting in with the other Ultramen and has since his Japanese broadcast retained his image and respectability. There are still Ultraman Great toys, particularly in Bandai's traditional vinyl line of Ultramen and monsters, still popular today.
*Particularly considering the of the Ultraman franchise in Japan and most of Southeastern Asia, the final product of Tsuburaya's first attempt at Westernizing Ultraman was disappointing. The blame may most likely be laid on the Aussie's involved in its production, such as Supervising Producer Gus Howard, who earnestly believed the original "Ultraman" (1966) was "trash with a capital 'T,'" and therefore insisted on "repackaging the concept" for an unspecified (and never found) western audience. Series writer, Terry Larsen, merely adapted the story already evolved by Japanese crew members; in fact, Larsen supposedly had never heard of the Ultraman series before, which calls into question his selection as series writer. The basic disinterest of the Australian crew in emphasizing the action/fighting/brawling was what made this series with potential such a yawn.
*"Power Rangers" ("Zyuranger," the first series of a long line of annual Tokusatsu, or special effects, series produced by Toei Studios to be purchased by Haim Saban for US distribution) found its success by not tampering with the action sequences but editing out the plot development elements, most portions of which were geared toward a Japanese cultural audience (and featured the Japanese actors out of costume). "Ultraman: Towards the Future" took the wrong route by dumbing down the fighting and amping up the drama. In a half-hour, fast-paced action show, however, such drama becomes very trivial.
*A REALLY BIG ISSUE: Producer Gus Howard admits that Australia really "didn't have any special effects infrastructure." This was exemplified for the time period by "Ultraman: Towards the Future"'s supremely bad special effects, excepting the pyrotechnics. It wasn't the special effects themselves, however--it was how they were employed. For example: primitive computer effects such as scaling images were often used for aircraft/monster flight when simple trick photography would have been easier and more believable. There was a lot of money blown on various kinds of special effects, the most effective being high-speed film (for slowing shots down) and monstrous pyrotechnics. Other than that, the show looked worse than a home video. Some episodes looked better than others as a result of the different visual effects techniques employed.moreless