Film Review: ‘Garm Wars: The Last Druid’

'Ghost in the Shell' director Mamoru Oshii scraps his anime roots for a visually stunning yet impenetrable hybrid blend of live-action and CG visuals.

Melanie St-Pierre, Lance Henriksen, Kevin Durand, Summer H. Howell, Dawn Ford, Andrew Gilles, Jordan Van Dyck. (English dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2504640/

On a planet no one’s ever heard of, three species no one cares about are caught in a genocidal battle for reasons no one understands. These are the so-called “Garm Wars,” a mind-numbing, semi-animated hybrid that blends greenscreen-heavy live-action footage with hyper-detailed yet minimally engaging computer-generated visuals guaranteed to bore all but “Ghost in the Shell” director Mamoru Oshii’s most dedicated fans. Drunk on the needlessly complicated mythology of its unrelatable universe, this talky (to the point of impenetrable) Canadian-made curiosity plays like an elaborate sci-fi screensaver, hi-res enough for theatrical exhibition, but far too stultifying to support it.

One of the world’s most respected anime helmers — and still the only one to have been featured in competition at Cannes — Oshii has long privileged visuals over plot and character. His last feature, the Venice-launched “The Sky Crawlers,” incorporated digital touches into a more traditional anime format, but here Oshii (working with co-director Atsuki Sato) jettisons his hand-drawn heritage altogether in order to play with a new CG toolset. According to the director, this was no hasty switch, but the result of a patient wait for the technology to catch up with the vision he had in mind for this film, which he has been developing since the late ’90s.

You’d think all that time would have been adequate for Oshii to shape the imaginary society into something auds could follow, but instead, he takes for granted that we can comprehend what sounds like so much gobbledygook — long, dense monologues full of references to imaginary species and arcane pseudo-spiritual belief systems. Here’s a best guess as to what’s going on: The story takes place on a planet called Annwn, whose inhabitants, the Garm, were long ago separated into eight tribes. Just three of these remain — the Briga, the Columba and the Kumtak — locked in a state of constant warfare.

The heroine, a clone called Khara (Melanie St-Pierre), is somehow associated with the Columba. Stored in a giant tube amid identical-looking soldiers, she struts around in tight-fitting fetish gear and totes a huge cannon. The film kicks off with a visually stunning air battle, after which Khara chances upon a creepy Kumtak mystic named Wydd (Lance Henriksen, whose wrinkles have wrinkles and whose hairpiece needs a haircut).

The old man talks a lot, but mostly in riddles that mask what’s really going on. Traveling with him are Gula, a creature not unlike a basset hound but blessed with some sort of special power — though we never see anything to confirm this — and Nascien (Summer H. Howell), the last of an otherwise extinct tribe of Druids, also believed “to have access to great power.” Khara accepts the challenge to accompany this odd party, although as things progress, it seems increasingly likely that other Garm need protection from Wydd and his gang, not the other way around.

Perhaps trying to make sense of “Garm Wars” is foolish, considering that Oshii’s overarching point seems to be that all this fighting is for naught. This is a familiar trick — and a paradoxical one — in the filmmaker’s oeuvre, which loves to preach pacifism while gorging auds on elaborately realized visions of destruction and genocide.

More than ever before, there’s an undeniable beauty to the world he has created, which features elegant warships swooping through blood-red skies; sterile white chambers where clones are regenerated; dark Giger-like control rooms in which armored despots sit plugged into shiny metal machines; and an Edenic, emerald-green organic environment where violence disrupts the illusion of peace. It’s all quite impressive, and yet unconvincing at the same time. The actors appear stiff and uncomfortable amid the misty (and somewhat “Myst”-like) environments.

In the end, Khara is less concerned with protecting the Druid than in getting answers — a sentiment audiences will certainly share. Before her quest is done, Khara will convince Wydd to spill secrets meant to enlighten, but every word out of his mouth merely serves to make things more confusing. Though it couldn’t have been Oshii’s intention, to watch is to comprehend how it feels to desperately crave peace — the kind that can only be found when the credits roll and the house lights come up.

Film Review: 'Garm Wars: The Last Druid'

Reviewed at Tokyo Film Festival (Special Screening), Oct. 24, 2014. Running time: 102 MIN.

Production: (Animated — Canada-Japan) A Bandai Namco Games, I.G Films presentation of a Production I.G, Lyla Films production. (International sales: Production I.G, Tokyo.) Produced by Makoto Asanuma, Mitsuhisa Ishikawa, Tetsu Fujimura, Lyse Lafontaine. Executive producers, Shin Unozawa, Michiru Ishikawa, Nancy Welsh. Co-producers, Daisuke Uchiyama, Haruyasu Makino, Lindsay Moffat.

Crew: Directed by Mamoru Oshii. Co-director, Atsuki Sato. Screenplay, Oshii, Geoffrey Gunn; story, Oshii. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Benoit Beaulieu; editor, Atsuki Sato; music, Kenji Kawai; production designer, David Blanchard; art director, Ted Samuels; costume designer, Dango Takeda; sound, Gabor Vadnay; sound designer, Tom Myers; special effects supervisor, Marc T. Reichel; visual effects supervisor, Geoff D.E. Scott; stunt coordinator, Brett Chan; line producer, Kathy Wolf; associate producers, Naoto Tani, Maki Terashima-Furuta; assistant director, Jacques Laberge; second unit directors, Scott, Chan; casting, Bruno Rosato, Orly Sitowitz.

With: Melanie St-Pierre, Lance Henriksen, Kevin Durand, Summer H. Howell, Dawn Ford, Andrew Gilles, Jordan Van Dyck. (English dialogue)

More Film

  • With PGA win, 'Green Book' is

    Oscars: With PGA Victory, 'Green Book' Becomes Best Picture Frontrunner

    Save for a pair of recent back-to-back discrepancies in “The Big Short” and “La La Land,” the Producers Guild’s Darryl F. Zanuck Award for Theatrical Motion Pictures has been a fairly reliable barometer for the annual Oscar season outcome. At least, ever since both the PGA and film Academy expanded their top categories, sharing the [...]

  • Peter Farrelly30th Annual Producers Guild Awards,

    PGA Awards: 'Green Book' Wins Top Feature Film Award

    “Green Book” has won the Producers Guild’s Darryl F. Zanuck Award as the top feature film of 2018. The 1960s drama-comedy topped “BlacKkKlansman,” “Black Panther” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Crazy Rich Asians,” “The Favourite,”  “A Quiet Place,” “Roma,” “A Star Is Born” and “Vice. More Reviews Film Review: ‘Dragon Ball Super: Broly’ Film Review: 'Who Will Write [...]

  • Netflix HQ LA

    Andy Gruenberg, Veteran Film Executive, Dies at 68

    Veteran film executive Andy Gruenberg, who most recently oversaw theatrical distribution at Netflix, died suddenly on Friday. He was 68. Gruenberg worked on classic films like “Ghostbusters,” “Karate Kid” and “Silverado” while at Columbia Pictures in the 80s and 90s. More Reviews Film Review: ‘Dragon Ball Super: Broly’ Film Review: 'Who Will Write Our History' [...]

  • Fyre Festival Caterer Receives Thousands in

    Unpaid Fyre Festival Caterer Raises Thousands in Donations on GoFundMe

    As two Fyre Festival documentaries hit the airwaves, a couple who say their credit was ruined due to the Fyre Festival’s lack of payment for their services have raised $54,381 at time of publication on GoFundMe. Elvis and Maryann Rolle wrote on their page that they catered “no less than 1000 meals per day” in [...]

  • DF-10956_R – Gwilym Lee (Brian May) and

    'Bohemian Rhapsody' Producer Confirms Bryan Singer's Reason for Leaving, Says 'No One' Was Attached to Play Mercury

    “Bohemian Rhapsody” producer Graham King provided insight into some of the events surrounding the Golden Globe-winning film Saturday at the Producers Guild Awards Nominees Breakfast, including director Bryan Singer’s departure from the film partway through production. “It’s an unfortunate situation, with like 16, 17 days to go and Bryan Singer just had some issues, his [...]

  • Author Tony Mendez arrives at the

    Tony Mendez, Former CIA Officer Depicted in 'Argo,' Dies at 78

    Tony Mendez, the former CIA technical operations officer who orchestrated the 1980 rescue of six American diplomats from Iran and who was portrayed by Ben Affleck in the Academy Award winning film “Argo,” has died. He was 78. Mendez’s book agent, Christy Fletcher, announced the news on Twitter Saturday morning. More Reviews Film Review: ‘Dragon [...]

  • Glass Movie

    'Glass' to Rank in Top 3 MLK Debuts With $48 Million

    M. Night Shyamalan’s “Glass” is on its way to a solid debut with an estimated $48 million for the four-day Martin Luther King Jr. weekend. A sequel to 2000’s “Unbreakable” and 2017’s “Split,” the Universal superhero thriller should bring in around $41 million from 3,841 domestic locations over the Friday through Sunday period. The estimates are [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content