Tokyo 2014 Review: GARM WARS: THE LAST DRUID, Mamoru Oshii Delivers Magic Dogs Amidst Turgid Fantasy
Opening on the computer-generated world of Annwn, Lance Henriksen begins the first of what will be many interminably long and undecipherable voiceovers attempting to explain this world's mythology. In the beginning there were eight tribes, each with a name more ridiculous than the last that old Lance will read out more than once during the film's runtime. Only three of these tribes now remain, the most powerful being the Briga, who control the land and are aided by the technologically advanced Kumtak in their efforts to wipe out the sky-dominating Colomba. Against the backdrop of an intense air battle, the explosions and background noise make it even harder to pay attention to the insufferable dialogue-led exposition overlaying the visuals. After the preliminary action several characters are forced together and the central quest can begin.
Sci-fi stalwart Henriksen plays Wydd, a Kumtak priest who has under his care a druid named Nascien. This mysterious mask-wearing girl carries with her the ability to unlock the secrets of their world and origins. Melanie St-Pierre plays sky-pilot Kara who early on we see killed, reborn and given the post-fix 23 denoting the number of times she's been cloned. Everyone on this planet possesses a similar secret number; there are no live births. Finally Kevin Durand plays Skellig, an arrogant Briga and the operator of a tank that the four set off in. An uneasy truce made between the warring clan members, the group take off on a mission to a sacred land on a quest for answers about their origins and the whereabouts of the creator God who left his world behind.
Like Studio Ghibli's Tales From Earthsea, Garm Wars feels like a small part of a much bigger story, and as such it doesn't work as a standalone film. We're quickly introduced to so much clunky back story and silly names that the characters themselves come across as little more than video game cut-outs, with equivalently quantifiable abilities, strength, speed, magic etc. A dog joins the group too, Oshii's trademark basset hound, only it's not called a dog, it's called a Gura, and when it does cute doggy tricks like standing on its hind legs, it's considered some kind of mystical blessing. All of this is delivered in the most straight-faced, humourless way imaginable, which only serves to highlight the portentous narrative.
Part live-action, part computer graphics the whole things plays out like an extended Final Fantasy cut-scene. Oshii's attempts at translating anime style and visuals into live-action reveal the flaws in such an endeavour. Characters feel shallow and under-developed and relationships between them carry little meaning. Henriksen does his best to add some weight to the musings of the warrior monk, but St-Pierre and Durand struggle with the ropey dialogue and fail to make their hollow relationship play out. It doesn't help that the dialogue is bizarrely clipped and stunted and it's hard to imagine in this CG world, that two actors were ever actually present and talking to each other.
While Oshii has certainly packed a lot of ideas into his creation, and there is undoubtedly an impressive visual flair that's quite stunning at times, a 90-minute feature film is perhaps not the format to present it in. From start to finish this feels like a prequel, a tie-in to flesh-out a TV or game series. Ultimately, like watching an overly long video game cut-scene I wanted to bash the X button and skip to the end, but alas, in the cinema there was none.
Garm Wars: The Last Druid
- Mamoru Oshii
- Geoffrey Gunn (screenplay)
- Mamoru Oshii
- Gen Urobuchi (adaptation)
- Lance Henriksen
- Kevin Durand
- Mélanie St-Pierre
- Summer H. Howell