January 21, 2006

GARUDA - a Thailand monster movie on DVD

GARUDA (Thailand, 2004)
Thai all-region DVD Review

In Thailand, a Garuda is a half-human bird god. It's also a monster movie... a prehistoric cave is found during the excavations for a new underground train tunnel. 3 scientists and a special services army squad discover the remains of a petrified forest and encounter a fierce and fast creature still living there. The rather cocky soldiers soon discover that guns and grenades won't protect them...

Always curious to see how other countries (besides Japan) portray their monsters, and attracted by the beautifully rendered poster art, I took a plunge and got GARUDA on DVD. I soon realised it was not quite a GODZILLA, more like a YONGGARY.

YONGGARY, (or REPTILIAN in the U.S.), was a Korean movie trying to piggyback on the success of the American GODZILLA with its own CGI giant monster. Like GARUDA it was high budget for its country, and tried to appeal to an international market. Both films therefore used leading actors who would appeal more to Western audiences. This is partly GARUDA's undoing. Unfortunately, the weakest members of the cast appear to be the two non-Thai leads. The professor, the soldiers, even the comedy relief Station Master appear more professional. Seeing as Asian movies are breaking through internationally at the moment anyway, there's less risk in not having any Westerners to identify with. To be fair, the leads are asked to do some pretty stupid scenes, like the one where the scientist manages to stumble into the middle of a sea of trip-wires without setting any of them off.

The soldiers who here specialise in 'killing gods' are way too confident, and are portrayed as being ultra-cool, smoking like chimneys and wasting bullets like there's no tomorrow. One fancy fight routine is enhanced with some belated Matrix-style effects.

The CGI monster is well-designed and looks good in close-up (which is just as well, because whenever there's a dull moment we get a shot of the monster's face in close up). It's movements are a little lightweight but looks excellent when flying. The film-makers bravely place it in white corridors in some scenes and, while we know it's CG, the compositing into the action is flawless. But the action scenes rarely pick up momentum and the narrative is constantly hard to follow - there's one moment in the subway when I thought there were two monsters, the editing was so misleading. A simple story, badly told.

One last tip, if you're going to set a monster movie in a big city, at least show off some of the sites. We only ever see Bangkok at night and the skyscrapers could be from anywhere. A few establishing shots and the trashing of some local landmarks could have given GARUDA more of a sense of location.

This Thai DVD (sleeve pictured above) is all-region PAL, with 5.1 and DTS audio. The picture aspect is 16:9 anamorphic, but the sides seem to be cropped from a wider 2.35 aspect. Much of the detail in the shadows seems to be crushed to black, but this could just be the result of the stylised graded look of the film. In addition, there's a poor trailer but also a good look behind the scenes. The movie has well-translated, easy-to-read english subtitles, but not on the extras.


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