Garuda (2004) Movie Review

The DVD cover for the Thai monster movie “Garuda” shows a gigantic, bird-like creature perched over a modern city, ready to wreak havoc upon the unsuspecting populace. It looks very much like your average Japanese kaiju film, the kind that usually involves an atomic breath lizard or giant furry moth, but unfortunately “Garuda” is anything but a kaiju film, both in genre and spirit. Although it has some interesting ideas and mostly decent performances from the live humans in the cast, inconsistent direction by the director and a poor script (also by the director) ultimately dooms “Garuda” to a life of mediocrity — if that.

“Garuda” starts promisingly enough, with a brief background on the eponymous monster, which we are told was imprisoned beneath Bangkok many thousands of years ago. Fast-forward to the present day, where a mysterious fossil is discovered deep beneath Bangkok , prompting a commando team specializing in supernatural incidents to be called in. Also along for the ride are a female half-Thai scientist, her American assistant, and her scientist uncle. We soon learn that the fossil is that of the evil Garuda, seen being imprisoned at the film’s beginning. Inevitably, the creature awakens, and begins killing anyone it encounters, all the while heading for the surface. It doesn’t look good for Bangkok …

“Garuda” is directed by Monthan Arayangkoon, who shows brief flashes of style and verve every once in a while. A shot of a smoking soldier becomes a darkened figure, impaling smoke upon the night. Likewise, a night view of the city is transformed into an orchestral symphony of electric lights. Unfortunately these moments are exceptions rather than the rule, because most of the time Arayangkoon treats his directing duties likes it’s an annoying chore, akin to taking out the trash. The results are obviously hurried shots and inconsistent pacing that swings from lightning fast to deathly slow, as if Arayangkoon was incapable of choosing one speed and going with it.

No surprise, then, that Arayangkoon has the same problems writing as he does directing “Garuda”. Novel ideas like a supernatural black ops team are never truly developed, as if Arayangkoon was hoping they would evolve on their own and save him the hassle. The script is also filled with the usual inconsistencies that dog most monster movies, many of them the result of sloppy writing. How else to explain why a single handgun hurts Garuda, but several automatic weapons don’t. And there’s the battle hardened combat unit that is easily wiped out, but an unarmed female manages to survive. Even the way the creature, which doesn’t show up until 50 minutes in, is finally stopped leaves much to be desired, the finale akin to Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown as he runs to kick it.

The special effects in “Garuda” are fairly well done, with the exception of a sequence where the monster rampages through an all-white subway station. Putting a CGI image against an all-white background only enhances the fact that it’s an artificial image. It’s an extremely careless move, and one that detracts greatly from what otherwise could have been an exciting sequence. On the plus side, the cinematography by Jiradeht Samnansanor lends a nice visual flair to the film’s overall aesthetics.

The performances from the human cast are decent, although nothing spectacular. Sara Legge is appealing as the film’s heroine, although the character occasionally gets a little whiny. Dan Fraser, as Legge’s American companion Tim, is an affable type that seems to be trying too hard as the film goes on. Fraser winds up looking like the nerdy kid in gym class, desperate to play but always picked last, if picked at all. As Lena ‘s scientist uncle, Chalad Na Sangkhla looks overly grim and serious, as if he just discovered that his medical insurance was being handled by Christian Scientists.

“Garuda” had potential to be a great monster movie. Most of the film’s faults can be attributed to oftentimes sloppy direction and editing by the writer/director, whose own script barely makes any sense. This is too bad, because “Garuda” has decent special effects, as well as an appealing female lead in Sara Legge. Unfortunately, like most monster movies, “Garuda” ends up treading formula instead of creating new ones, resulting in a film that doesn’t stand out from the crowd.

Monthon Arayangkoon (director) / Monthon Arayangkoon (screenplay)
CAST: Dan Fraser …. Tim
Sara Legge …. Lena
Chalad Na Songkhla

Buy Garuda on DVD