This latest Thai import to hit North American DVD is kind of that country's take on a Godzilla film, but as you'll notice as the movie plays out, in Thailand, they do their giant monster movies a little differently.
A introductory narration fills us in on the back story right away – thousands of years ago giant creatures lived peacefully until a single Garuda, a giant flying chicken like creature, went bad. This monster slaughtered all of its own kind and everything else it could get its claws on before it was finally buried deep below the Earth. Fast forward a few thousand years to the present day, and deep below the streets of Bangkok a construction crew is busy building a subway tunnel. As they're digging they come upon a gigantic and rather odd rock, and inside this rock is a gigantic bird fossil. They call in an archeologist named Leena and her friend Tim to check out the scene, and Leena, well schooled in the Thai mythology of old, knows fairly early on thanks to her father's teachings that what it is that they've discovered.
One thing leads to another and through their own folly, the citizens of Bangkok unleash the Garuda who wastes no time flying around laying waste to everything in the tunnels before heading up to the city itself. The military is called in but they're no match for this mighty beast and soon it looks like the entire fate of Thailand lays in Leena's hands, as only she has the knowledge needed to stop the beast once and for all…
Garuda isn't half bad – it more or less plays by the standards associated with the giant monster movie and on that level, as pure 'monster on the loose' entertainment it's a fun ride. The Thai take on the genre is welcome as it adds a perspective to the movie that is unique to its homeland and that adds a level of interest to the movie on top of the chaos and destruction inherent in the very concept. It's refreshing to see a giant monster re-emerge not from nuclear bombs or atomic testing but from something a little more down to earth and a little more, dare I say it, realistic.
With that being said, the movie is far from perfect. The biggest and most obvious of the flaws in the movie is the special effects work, which has been rendered pretty much completely in CGI. Now, for a lot of us, the charm of a giant monster movie is seeing a guy running around in a rubber suit trashing miniature sets and with the advent of technology and computer generated effects, we don't always get that anymore. The more recent Godzilla films have been a good example of how CGI has been blended with live action monster romps – unfortunately, Garuda is devoid of any organic effects and contains only really, really bad looking computer generated ones. The CGI in this movie is awful, it's soulless, it's unrealistic looking, it wreaks of cheapness and it sucks you right out of what is otherwise a decent little movie. Even the close ups of the monster are computer generated, and the graphics, unfortunately, are akin to early PS2 games.
If you can look past the effects and enjoy the movie for what it is, you might find Garuda to be worthwhile film but the CGI is a pretty big obstacle to overcome as this really does look like a made for TV movie in spots. Graphics issues aside, it's fun and it's entertaining, but unfortunately because of the visuals it doesn't come close to hitting the potential that it showed despite some decent performances, a few cool set pieces and an interesting basic premise.
The 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen for this release is very good, but not quite perfect. In the darker areas of the image you'll see some mild compression artifacts and pixelation and there is a bit of aliasing present in a few scenes as well. Other than that, the image looks good, with reasonably solid color reproduction, strong black levels, and a fairly hefty amount of both foreground and background detail present in the image. Some mild film grain shows up in a few spots but it's not a big deal and unless you're looking for it, you're probably not going to notice it in the first place. All in all, the image is pretty impressive though there are some spots here and there that exhibit a little more print damage than you would expect to see on a film this recent.
Thankfully, the audio on this release is pretty much problem free and viewers are given the option of watching the film in a Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround mix in Thai or dubbed into English in either Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound or Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo. Dialogue is crisp and clear and comes through without any hiss or distortion and the surrounds are used perfectly during the more intense moments of the film to build mood and atmosphere. The bass levels are strong but not overpowering and the levels seem to be set where they should be as there aren't any issues with the sound effects or moody background music overshadowing the performers in the film.
Extras on this release include the film's original theatrical trailer and a twenty minute making of documentary (if memory serves correct, this is the same documentary that was on the Thai DVD that came out a couple of years ago) presented in its native Thai language with English subtitles. It's interesting to learn how and why they went from a traditional guy in a rubber suit approach to pretty much a pure CGI monster in the finished version of the film (an unfortunate choice). It's also worth noting that for some reason cigarettes are blurred out here in much the same way that genitalia sometimes is in Japanese films. Odd. Regardless, everyone who worked on the movie speaks quite highly of the whole experience and this is a nice look at the effort that they put into getting the project finished and where they took some of their inspiration from.
Garuda is an entertaining and unique monster mash that unfortunately really suffers from some really bad CGI but, on the other hand, benefits from its distinct Thai sensibility. The Tokyo Shock DVD looks and sounds decent and the extras are alright, if slim, making this one a solid rental, or a mild recommendation for die hard Kaiju movie buffs.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.