A movie originally made for the Sci-Fi Channel, Attack Of The Gryphon (originally titled simply Gryphon) attempts to recapture the magic of the old Ray Harryhausen monster movies of the fifties and sixties but unfortunately it fails pretty darn miserably despite a moderately amusing premise and some interesting actors in the cast.
When the story begins, two brothers rule an ancient kingdom that has been ripe with civil war for the last three centuries. Just as it looks like one side is about to get the upper hand and win the struggle, the losing side calls in a sorcerer named Armond (played by Larry Drake) to summon the gryphon, a mythological bird that will destroy whatever the sorcerer commands. What neither side realizes is that Armond is a sinister bloke and once he gets the gryphon under his control, he decides he's going to wipe out both parties and take over the entire land for himself. The prince of one side, Seth of Delphi (Jonathon LaPaglia) and the princess of the other side, Amelia of Lockland (Amber Benson) have to put their differences aside and team up and find a magical thing-a-ma-jig to stop Armond and his gryphon before he usurps both thrones and begins his reign of terror.
Not too far removed, on principal at least, from better known quest movies like The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, Attack Of The Gryphon has a fairly successful agenda cooked up for its storyline and it sets itself up reasonably well. Sadly, the setup is the best part of the picture, as once the gryphon appears it's all pretty much over. This is one of the hokiest and most ridiculous looking CGI monsters we've ever had the pleasure to see and every time he appears we're sucked right out of the movie and our suspension of disbelief is taken out back and shot in the head. Now, granted, gryphons are not real and therefore it's impossible to say how realistic the portrayal of said monster is in this movie, but let it suffice to say that the beastie is completely awkward looking and inspires about as much fear as Kermit The Frog. This is not a threatening creature, it is an obviously computer generated (and poorly at that) abomination and seeing the performers act alongside side it isn't so much impressive or inspiring as it is completely laughable. Making this worse is the fact that the location shooting in the forests of Eastern Europe is actually quite nice and the set design isn't half bad either. Again, once that monster shows up, however, you can throw all of that out the window.
As far as the acting goes, Amber Benson (best known as Tara from TV's Buffy The Vampire Slayer is decent in a somewhat sultry role. She's given the opportunity to vamp it up a bit and she does a fine job of it when needed, but she also proves herself in the action scenes as well. Fans of her work will enjoy her performance here, despite the film's painfully obvious flaws. LaPaglia (of The District) isn't quite as good in his role playing the hero, as it's just too hard to get past his thick New Jersey accent at times. At least he looks the part. Larry Drake, on the other hand, is corny and it's hard not to think of this part as a twisted Bizarro-World extension of Benny from L.A. Law, albeit with wacky magical powers and a crappy CGI bird to do his evil bidding. The fact that for a good portion of the movie he's accompanied by some evil witch cronies who look like piss-poor Xena rejects doesn't help him any. Poor Larry Drake. The guy's actually a pretty good actor but you wouldn't know it from seeing him in this movie.
There are a few inspired moments in the film that show that the filmmakers had the best of intentions. A scene with some ghostly knights is kind of cool and most of the combat scenes work reasonably well. It's just so damn near impossible to wrap your head around that goofy, goofy monster...
Sony presents Attack Of The Gryphon in a nice 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that looks to be the proper aspect ratio for the movie. The film is big on grey so the image isn't as colorful as you might expect it to be but this is a stylistic choice and not at all a problem with the transfer itself. Flesh tones look lifelike and natural and the black levels stay fairy consistent throughout the picture. There are some really mild compression artifacts noticeable in the darker scenes but you do have to be looking for them in order to spot them in the first place. A bit of edge enhancement pops up here and there but it's never overpowering, neither is the occasional instance of line shimmering that appears here and there. Detail in both the foreground and the background of the image is fine.
The one lone audio track on this DVD is an English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix with optional subtitles provided in English and with an English closed captioning feature. If you don't speak or read English, you're out of luck here, kids. As far as the quality of the track goes, there's little to complain about. The dialogue is always clean and easy to follow with most of it coming at you out of the front of the mix while rear channels are used for sound effects and for the movie's score. Bass response isn't as strong as it could have been during the combat scenes but it is there and you will notice it. There's little to complain about here, in terms of the audio presentation, it all sounds just fine.
Well, Sony has supplied some basic menu screens, a chapter selection sub-menu, and a couple of previews for other, unrelated DVD releases from their catalogue but no real actual extra features are to be found here.
While the film looks and sounds fine on this DVD the lack of extras doesn't help and the movie itself is pretty awful, made all the worse by some truly wretched digital effects work. Hardcore fantasy film buffs might take something away from this and the Buffy devotees might get a kick out of Amber Benson's performance but unless you fall into either of these categories you're advised to skip this one.
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.