8 April 2011
"Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole” is an odd feature, most notably because it comes from the directorial stare of Zack Snyder. Following his excellent albeit financially wobbly adaptation of “Watchmen”, Snyder opted to tackle author Kathryn Lasky’s “Guardians of Ga’Hoole” series, a selection of fantasy novels aimed at prepubescent readers. Imagining a world inhabited by clans of talking owls, “Legend of the Guardians” is very hit and miss from a storytelling perspective, but absolutely dazzling in terms of visual presentation. More seasoned viewers will undoubtedly be disappointed by the stock characters and obvious plot contortions, but there’s no denying “Legend of the Guardians” is a beautiful movie to look at.
Soren (Jim Sturgess) is a young barn owl obsessed with tales of the Guardians of Ga’Hoole, a band of noble owls who fight for peace and harmony in the animal kingdom. One evening he and his brother Kludd (Ryan Kwanten) are abducted by larger beasts and taken to evil Metalbeak’s kingdom (Joel Edgerton), finding themselves enslaved by the cold Queen Nyra (Helen Mirren). Soren comes to find that Metalbeak and Nyra are using trapped young owls to build an ultimate weapon that will allow them to assume complete command of the wilderness. Kludd becomes infatuated with his new overlords, but Soren and another smaller owl named Gylfie (Emily Barclay) narrowly escape, heading to the mythical land of Ga’Hoole for help. On arrival the Guardians are ultimately disbelieving, but Soren soon shows them otherwise, leaving warfare as the only solution.
I can’t speak with any genuine authority concerning Lasky’s literary work, but on the basis of this adaptation I wouldn’t imagine it’s fiercely original. “Legend of the Guardians” is a pretty standard underdog flick, imagining a fantasy world where an underappreciated outsider has to discover his own true potential to prosper. If you’ve even heard of Harry Potter or Frodo Baggins then you’re probably rolling your eyes about now, and to be fair, I wouldn’t blame you. The plotting is staggeringly formulaic, as is the characterization, nobody in this world exists as anything more than a stoic hero, a nefarious villain or a stuttering goofball. Kids will probably respond to these stereotypes with little complaint, but more mature audiences should be advised that “Legend of the Guardians” struggles to provide screen entities of any emotional depth or individuality. Pixar this ain’t.
Snyder reasserts with “Legend of the Guardians” that he is a tremendously visual filmmaker, crafting an energetic digital world filled with serenely detailed beauty. Some of the character designs are a little indistinctive, but others are wonderfully envisioned by an obviously committed Snyder. The cinematography is breathtaking throughout, and Snyder also finds the time to imbue his own personal filmmaking flourishes into this unlikely universe. If you’ve ever wanted to see owls propel themselves through the air in slow-mo, then “Legend of the Guardians” is the movie for you. Snyder also does a fantastic job of pushing the picture toward a frantic and bombastic climax, the film’s opening two acts are infinitely patchy, but the battle sequences at the end are highly entertaining.
The voice cast is agreeable, Snyder selecting skilled thespians rather than superstars. Bringing solid performers like Jim Sturgess, Hugo Weaving, Helen Mirren, Sam Neill and Geoffrey Rush into the mix only empowers the production, gifting the CGI creations personality in a way the script fails to render. “Legend of the Guardians” isn’t the sort of endeavor I would go out of my way to recommend, but I suppose as a family rental it fulfills the required functions competently enough.
The video quality looks good, although with films like this you can’t help but wish you’d been issued a Blu-Ray to review instead. The Hi-Def transfer for “Legend of the Guardians” must be superb. The edition I received was a one disc release, with fairly limited additional content. A Looney Tunes short entitled “Fur of Flying” is a tight and sporadically amusing watch, although it offers no more than you’d expect from an average Road Runner cartoon. A 15 minute featurette focusing on owls as a species is also included, and is informative enough. That’s pretty much it here, so those looking for insightful information concerning the production process had better go elsewhere.
"Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’ Hoole” is available to own and rent on DVD and Blu-Ray from April 11th 2011.
A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011