Title: Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole
Directed By: Zack Snyder
Starring: Jim Sturgess, Emily Barclay, Abbie Cornish, Adrienne DeFaria, Joel Edgerton, Ryan Kwanten, Anthony LaPaglia, Miriam Margolyes, Helen Mirren, Sam Neill, Geoffrey Rush, David Wenham, Hugo Weaving
Zack Snyder is clearly a master of visuals, but look at 300 and Watchmen. The minimal plot of 300 was completely overshadowed by the masterful imagery and while those unfamiliar with the source material couldn’t quite understand Watchmen, there was no denying that the film was downright mesmerizing. Sadly, it looks as though Snyder has fallen into a similar trap with Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole. The film looks gorgeous, but unfortunately it’s also quite evident that he attempted to cram three books into just one film. The story itself is sloppy.
Based on the first three books of Kathryn Lasky’s series, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole follows the adventures of a young owl named Soren (voiced by Jim Sturgess). All his life he’s enjoyed hearing his father’s (Hugo Weaving) stories about the legendary Guardians of Ga’Hoole, a group of owls dedicated to keeping peace throughout the owl kingdom. However, his brother Kludd (Ryan Kwanten) views his father’s stories as just that, tall tales. One day, while practicing a pre-flying technique called branching, both Soren and Kludd fall to the ground, a nightmare of a place for owlets. But before the creatures down below can get a hold of them, something else does, something far worse, the Pure Ones.
The Pure Ones take the brothers back to their lair where they enslave young owls, forcing some to work and others to train to become warriors. Kludd is instantly seen as a potential fighter, but when Soren attempts to defend a tiny elf owl, Gylfie (Emily Barclay), Soren is punished and assigned to be a picker, a worker that must pick through pellets to find special “flecks.” Eventually Gylfie and Soren see an opportunity to escape and take it and that’s when the real adventure begins. Their only hope of freeing the other owlets and stopping whatever scheme the Pure Ones have in the works is to find the Guardians of Ga’Hoole.
No, there hasn’t been an overabundance of owl movies, but much of Legend of the Guardians feels very familiar. Even without having read Lasky’s books, it’s quite obvious that if Soren is the believer of the family, Kludd will wind up on the opposing side of the fight. We check that family feud off the list rather early and from then on, it’s a rather simplistic and predictable flight to the end. However, regardless of the handful of jokes that’ll only appeal to a juvenile crowd and the expected triumphs, Legend of the Guardians is engaging all of the way through.
Soren is an extremely likeable lead character, as is his sidekick, Gylfie. Both Twilight and Digger are geared more toward younger moviegoers, but still manage to crack a few adult-friendly jokes from time to time. As conventional as it may be, the rift between Soren and Kludd grows in some unexpected ways, making the pang of betrayal particularly brutal. Yet, even with their assets, all of these characters suffer from being underdeveloped, except Soren. There’s really no good reason for Kludd turning to the dark side and Twilight and Digger pop in and out out of nowhere. And even when adequate reasoning is given for a particular character’s behavior, not enough time is allotted to digest the information.
As for our evil owls, the infamous Metalbeak (Joel Edgerton) and his loyal mate Nyra (Helen Mirren) both make for frightening characters, but also aren’t developed quite enough to make them truly terrifying. We know Metalbeak is an evil force that many owls assume to be a myth and Nyra is clearly his right hand (or wing) woman, but nothing more. Though what could be terrifying for young audience members is the violence. These are no ordinary owls; both the Guardians and the Pure Ones are warriors, warriors that don fierce looking helmets and metal claws. There’s nothing gory, but certain implications and the viciousness with which the owls go to battle can be jarring.
For those who can handle the midair combat, the visuals are absolutely stunning. Legends of the Guardians was clearly made with 3D in mind and it works. Snyder implements a number of slow motion techniques that are obviously meant to show the extra dimension in action, but don’t go so far as to appear as a gimmick. Even when Snyder isn’t sending a stray feather the audience’s way, the animation is still above and beyond most of its kind. Minus one or two instances during which Soren appeared with a halo effect, the owls look strikingly realistic down to the tiniest detail in the texture of their feathers. Just as impeccable as the birds themselves are the landscapes that serve as their backdrop. Whether it’s the fiery domain of the Pure One or the lush Tree of Ga’Hoole, the environment makes the characters and the action even more enthralling.
The one thing that keeps Legend of the Guardians from being an excellent film is the subject matter. The weaker portions of the story can be overlooked, but there’s just something about watching talking and fighting owls that’s extremely difficult to digest. If it weren’t for the stunning visuals, it’d be impossible to appreciate the story in the least.
Voice Acting: A-
By Perri Nemiroff