According to Judge Adam Arseneau, the best way to get a 20-foot tall mythical bird monster out of your house is to swat at it with a broom and say "shoo, shoo" in a firm and authoritative voice.
The day God turns against men, lives will be sacrificed, faith will be destroyed.
Garuda represents exactly what we have come to expect from big-budget monster movies from Thailand: umm…err…
Okay, there haven't been many examples. Probably close to none, actually. The first Thai monster movie inspired by Godzilla—at least, according to the packaging—Garuda represents a fresh cultural interpretation on the timeless dude-in-the-rubber-suit monster movie genre. Our expectations should be nice and clean and unbiased for this one.
Facts of the Case
While excavating an archeological site in Pakistan, scientists discover fossilized remains of a giant bird-creature quite unknown. Then, for no discernable reason, the archeological site starts exploding. Um, yeah.
Flash forward a few years and the daughter of the archeologist has continued her father's work. She and her American assistant have been petitioning the Thai government for continued support in researching her father's discoveries. The two are brought in to consult on the construction dig, but are interrupted by a secretive government operation of special forces agents, who…well, they fight monsters. Or something.
A Garuda, we are told, is a Hindu and Buddhist mythological beast that has appeared in Asian folklore for centuries and, of course, one still has to be living underneath the city of Bangkok, buried in a catacomb sealed behind impenetrable rock. Of course, a construction crew has to go all digging and unseal the thing.
Wait, what just happened? I wasn't paying attention. I think during one flashback sequence, one of the guys ends up fighting a giant 60-foot tall snake, like something out of Anaconda, but I could be wrong. What the hell was that about? What did that have to do with anything?
Okay, it's like this. Here's all you really need to know: there's a big bird monster, and it tears the crap out of a whole bunch of gun-toting soldiers in slow motion. But it's in Thai.
There you go. Also, the heroine is really, really good looking.
One has the sneaking suspicion that Garuda was created by the Thai from laboriously studying American action movies without actually understanding a lick of English. They get the basic elements right: lots of slow-motion camera, lots of guns, and a big monster to fire the aforementioned guns at endlessly. In fact, if you plugged your ears, you would certainly appear to be getting the authentic experience. However, as soon as you take those fingers out of your ear canals, your brain cells would start leaking out en masse, desperate to escape.
The amount of groan-worthy moments in the first five minutes of Garuda alone has to set some new kind of cinematic record. The film not only fails to make any sense, but it actually wallows in its own asinine nature, focusing on cramming as many action film clichés into a scene as possible. Objects that could not possibly explode in real life explode needlessly for no reason. Characters are one-dimensional and shout their dialogue unnecessarily. A giant bird-monster buried in the earth for millennia has an instant and intrinsic understanding of subway system tunnels and heat-seeking guided missiles. Also, apparently in Thailand, you can only run in slow motion; no regular running allowed. I think they passed a law or something.
Far more influenced by Hollywood action films than Japanese rubber suits, Garuda is a perplexing blend of Bruckheimer-esque clichés, faux rock music, and corny special effects, full of MTV-style quick edits, slow-motion shots, and dramatic rotation camera angles. Shameless in a way that can only come from complete ignorance, it is clear that the makers of Garuda sincerely believed they were making a kick-ass action film, totally unaware of exactly how ostentatious and corny they were. I have no idea whether I should feel annoyed or kind of sorry for them.
Sure, there are kaiju touches here and there, especially when the monster gets out onto the streets, but Garuda feels far more influenced by American films like Species and Aliens than anything Japan came up with. For one thing, the Garuda monster is not even remotely big enough to trounce a city proper. He's only two or three times the size of a person, tops. So when the packaging claims a movie inspired by a big Japanese lizard, there's some false advertising going on here. Instead of a nice big rubber suit movie, we get a corny B-quality action film that actually fuels itself off the intellect of those who are fortunate enough to fall under its hypnotic spell, converting brain waves to equal parts carbon dioxide and water. Based on first-hand data, watching Garuda does roughly the same amount of damage to your cerebellum as a heavy night of drinking or maybe an Engelbert Humperdinck record.
If the film has a saving grace—and that is a conjunction the size of San Diego—it is that few Thai films ever make it to our shores and that fact alone makes them inherently interesting. Garuda features some small subplots regarding religious and racial intolerance in Thailand when it comes to foreigners and those of mixed heritage, unflatteringly referred to as "half-caste," providing some fascinating insight into a culture not often represented cinematically in North America. Unfortunately, this cultural tidbit sustains the interest for about ten seconds before the token American cast member is reduced to comic relief, with over-the-top acting and physical comedy. Sigh.
The special effects are certainly special, if only in that self-deprecating ironic use of the word. Undaunted by the irritating issue of having little money to work with, the creators of Garuda decided to keep the grandiose vision of a gigantic winged monster terrorizing the city of Bangkok intact and simply CGI animate everything—and I mean everything. The end result is ambitious, if not atrociously animated; fake looking by Hollywood standards at the best of times, laugh-out-loud absurd at the worst. Of course, had they thrown a few million dollars into production, the film still would be lousy. It's probably better this way. Secretly ironic, you know?
Lifted shamelessly from far better action films, the cinematography has that oversaturated Tony Scott style about it, soaked in fluorescent greens and blues. Like a celluloid blender, practically every single action film cliché has been carefully imitated and reproduced ad nauseum here and simply edited together: slow-motion bullet dodging, laser sights shining into the camera, slow-motion shots of pins falling away dramatically from grenades, and on and on. The DVD is soft and hazy at times, but overall the presentation is quite excellent, with strong colors, deep black levels, and little print damage or edge enhancement noticeable.
Laden with options, the DVD gives the choice between dubbed English and Thai, each language presented in both a stereo and a Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation. The base response on both the English and Thai surround tracks is fairly solid, but kind of hollow and weak in the low LFE ranges. Both surround sound tracks are virtually similar, with the English being a bit louder in volume, with good sonic representation in the rear channels. Still, at times, it simply seems like the creators forgot to provide audio during certain sequences, as entire channels of audio simply go inactive. Dramatic effect? Hard to say. The stereo tracks are serviceable, but not as nice as the surround tracks in terms of clarity and bass. Like the cinematography and direction, the score is a schizophrenic onslaught of overly dramatic action film cliché scores; a randomly edited playlist of hard rock, pounding techno, rhythmic military drum marching, and somber strings (you know, for when people start dying in slow motion).
Now, I've heard a lot of bad English dubs in my life; a lot of terrible, egregious, corny, inaccurate, and poorly constructed English dubs. I wish I could hear them now, because then I wouldn't have to hear the English dub on Garuda. The absolute lion share, gold medal-winning, first to the finish line champion of horrifyingly embarrassing English dubs, under no circumstances should you ever, ever listen to the film with it running. Not ever. I'm deadly serious. Don't even.
As for extras, we get an original trailer and a 20-minute "making of" featurette, most of it recycled footage. Still, it definitely goes to show how much time and money went into the production. As an amusing site note, when showing footage from the film itself, all the on-screen cigarettes are digitally blurred out. This is probably because this documentary was created to be shown on television. By the look of the transfer, it was probably also recorded onto the DVD from television.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
It is interesting to see the giant monster film genre, born out of postwar nuclear anxiety from the only culture unfortunate enough to have experienced it first hand, reinterpreted by another Asian culture in conflict between its rapidly increasing technological capabilities and its long-held traditions and religious beliefs. Throw in a good healthy xenophobic bit of anti-American sentiment and Thailand has given its own unique spin on the format by creating a monster inspired from equal parts technological anxiety and deep-rooted religious folklore, quite unlike anything else on the market.
This doesn't make Garuda a good film, but it does make it a singularly unique one. Is there a perverse campy fun to be had here? Of course. Hell, I'd take Garuda out on a date to a fancy high-class restaurant over, say, a Uwe Boll action film.
If you weren't paying attention and only occasionally looked up, Garuda would provide a few moments of entertainment here and there, but they would be very short-lived. Media Blasters threw together a solid DVD, but the film is so riddled with lousy acting, terrible plot, excess action film clichés, erratic special effects, and a total disregard for entertainment that there is no saving the film. Garuda limps its way to the finish line, offering only mediocre moments of entertainment along the way.
Man, you'd figure a movie with a gigantic bird-man tearing up Bangkok would have gold written all over it. Oh, how wrong you'd be.
Garuda could probably hurl a wrench into the Asian film remake invasion of North America based solely on the stupidness of this single film. Well, either that or Hollywood would adapt it and it would make hundreds of millions of dollars.
These days, it is so alarmingly hard to tell how things will go.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Media Blasters
• The Making of Garuda
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