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Doomsday Reels: Garm Wars - The Last Druid

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Garm Wars: The Last Druid (2014)

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The Director

Mamoru Oshii

The Actors

Mélanie St-Pierre (Khara), Lance Henriksen (Wydd), Kevin Durand (Skellig), Summer H. Howell (Nascien), Holly the Dog (Gula)

The Trailer

The Story

"Around its blue parent planet Gaia circles Annwa, a world at war.  Once this world was controlled by eight tribes called The Garm: Briga, Wurm, Basse, Seta, Borzoi, Zenan, Kumtak, and Columba.  Each tribe had its own form and language based on its function and they served the god who created them.  However, Danaan the creator left this world one day and those tribes who were left behind began to fight each other for supremacy.  After a long period of conflict, the atmosphere has been contaminated and the surface left covered in ruins.  Of the eight tribes, only three (The Briga, the Columba, and the Kumtak) now remained.  And even the druids, said to convey the word of God, have died out.  The Briga have established dominance on the surface with their military might.  The Columba rule the skies by deploying mechanized units.  The Kumtak have barely managed to survive by offering their superior information technology to Briga.  The Briga and Columba, the two great tribes of land and air were about to beging battle of dominance over Annwn." - opening narration

The Cause

World War/Pollution

The Rundown

Titles are hard.  More than a back-of-the-box summary or a an elevator pitch or even a thesis statement, a title needs to capture the subject of a story while still being suitably catchy enough to make people want to see it.  Sure there are those who have flown close to the sun and kept their wings intact like Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb or The Beach Party at the Threshold of Hell others absolutely nail it with something like Turbo Kid, and a lot more settle for some boring borderline nonsensical tripe like 2307: Winter's Dream but it's a special few that come with something as wretchedly view-repellant as Garm Wars: The Last Druid.

Now make no mistake, the title does make sense in the context of the film.  There are Garm, they are at war, and this is the story of the last druid.  The problem is that Garm isn't a real word and someone who hasn't seen the movie has no clue what it means.  There's a reason that Star Wars wasn't called The New Jedi and The Fellowship of the Rings wasn't called Pursuit of the Nazgul.  Until the made-up vernacular of your fantasy universe is established in the zeitgeist, you'd better keep that stuff out of the title at least if not the promotional materials entirely.

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If you can stomach the title long enough to actually start watching the movie, the opening narration clears up that the Garm are a race of people living on a post-apocalyptic planet orbiting Gaia (maybe Earth?)  Having been abandoned by their god, the Garm have started a war between tribes that has eliminated all but three of the eight tribes.  The primarily land-based warriors the Briga, the superior air fighters the Columba, and the technologically superior Kumtak.

One day, a Briga craft deliberately escapes into Columba territory carrying an old man named Wydd (Lance Henriksen), a small girl in a full-body suit of metal armor that Wydd insists is a member of a long-since-extinct group of people who could speak to the gods known as Druids, and a floppy-eared Basset Hound that is regarded as some manner of divine creature in the world of the Garm.

Wydd's speech about seeking answers as to why God abandoned them speaks to a Columba clone pilot named Khara (Mélanie St-Pierre) who helps the three of them escape into the wasteland seeking answers.  They are attacked by a group of Briga clone soldiers but Khara manages to kill off all of them but their leader Skellig (Kevin Durand) who ceases his attack when the dog "blesses" Khara by doing an adorable trick.

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Garm Wars is an interesting film, visually.  Mamoru Oshii is the director of the original Ghost in the Shell and he brings a very anime visual style to this live-action movie.  Stylistically the film recalls similar experiments with different visual styles like Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow or Sin City but the extra wrinkle of being anime-style is a hindrance to the look of the movie.

All of the computer generated animation in this movie looks amazing, it's beautifully and creatively rendered and if it was layered over hand-drawn characters it would be a marvel.  Unfortunately the moment a real human being stands next to any special effect (which is basically any scene that features actors) the artifice becomes apparent.  The humans are clearly green-screened into any given scene and the few that take place on actual sets look even more janky.

What really sticks out is the action scenes.  Anime humans don't move like real humans but if you've ever wanted to see what would happen if a real human attempted to move in this manner then this movie provides all the answers you need.  It wouldn't improve the dialogue or the story but I can't help thinking that if they went fully-animated this movie would be a lot more watchable.

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This movie features one of my greatest pet-peeves of story telling, the vocabulary lesson.  Yes, a different culture on a different planet would have a different vernacular but every second your characters spend explaining all your made-up words is a second I'll never get back.  Find a way to make the dialect intuitive or the exposition more organic because a truncated history of a civilization with the name of their planet, race, and 8 individual tribes (5 of which don't even appear in the movie) is like nails on a chalkboard to me.

So much time is spent telling me the differences between Kumtak, Briga, and Columba that they never quite get around to explaining why the Columba have elf ears, why every tribe seems to be composed of clones of the same person (except for each tribe's high command), why basset hounds are revered and why shaking hands with a person is considered a blessing so profound that a mortal enemy will abandon their mission and help you on your Quixotic journey.

Spoilers until after the next picture.  The end of the movie even goes a weird direction where our heroes complete their quest and it's revealed that the Druid has used Wydd so that she can activate some giant doomsday robots to destroy the Garm.  It seems that the reason God took a hike is because The Garm are warmongers and it wanted to start over again on another planet but couldn't get started until all the Garm were dead.  But that doesn't make sense because the Garm were at peace until God left in the first place.

It also begs the question of what the actual fuck a druid even is.  After revealing that Nascien is a body-pillow anime girl she turns into a giant robot snake monster and then body-swaps into Wydd to deliver the villain speech (a wonderful menacing monologue from Lance Henriksen).  What tribe did Nascien even belong to and how did she discover that she was a druid?  I get that the movie's only a little over 90 minutes but there's a dearth of things happening in this movie beyond one pretty solid action scene, a few navel-gazing philosophical discussions between Khara and Wydd or Khara and Skellig, and river of dull exposition.

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Garm Wars is alright.  The special effects work more often than they don't, the film is paced in spite of how empty the narrative is, and Lance Henriksen and Kevin Durand do a good job spouting nonsense words and self-serious pseudo-philosophical pap.  There's a lot to enjoy about Garm Wars but it's not the sort of film that ever needs to be seen a second time.

The Shill

Garm Wars: The Last Druid is available on DVD and Amazon Instant.

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Next Time on Doomsday Reels

"How was I supposed to cut through an iron chain with a pocket knife?"