Saturday, September 3, 2011

THE LEGEND OF THE GUARDIANS: THE OWLS OF GA'HOOLE - REVIEW

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole
September 24, 2010
97 min
United States / Australia (English)


Directed by Zack Snyder
Written by Emil Stern and John Orloff



From the director of "300" comes 'The Legend of the Guardians," an epic fantasy with owls as the primary characters. Despite some minor annoyances, the film really does take off with impressive visuals and an involving tale of courage.

When my girlfriend and I first saw the trailer for "The Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole" in theaters early last year I believe we made a deal with each other (handshake and all) that neither of us would see it. Well, it is only fitting that the two of us just finished watching it together here at my apartment. You see, for whatever reason she added it to her DVD queue and for whatever reason it got to the top of that queue and for whatever reason we decided to watch it instead of just sending it back and for whatever reason we both quite liked it. I will try to briefly articulate that last part.

I suppose I must first explain why the trailer irked me so much that I felt compelled to make a foolish deal to not see a film that has just as much right to be seen as any other. The reason is silly. There is a contemporary alternative rock song playing throughout the last half of the trailer. (I did not bother finding out what it was, it is the principle that bothered me, not the very song itself.) Watch said trailer below. This is a fantasy film, very much set in its own world. A popular song of our day and age simply doesn't belong. (I found the same reason to complain in the recently released trailer for "Hugo.") Can you imagine if some recent radio hit started playing during the trailer for "The Lord of the Rings"? "Shrek" and "A Knight's Tale" are exceptions, pop-culture references is a large part of those films' functions, albeit it works better in one than the other. That song and the thought of yet another 3D animated film with talking animals really put me over the edge. (In that regard I must say I am a believer now. "The Legend of the Guardians" last year and then "Rango" this year. Animals are A-ok if the narrative is solid.) The trailer left me not a fan. This is a problem, something surely to be brought up in "The Trouble With Trailers." Expectations are made and sometimes they taint the film unfairly. However, this also gives an opportunity to have a change of opinion and half the time they can be pleasant surprises, which is what "The Legend of the Guardians" is.

A family of owls lives in a tree's hollow. The parents seem to love their children: two young sons and an even younger daughter. The sons have reached the age where they must learn to fly. The daughter has reached the age where she must get used to upchucking pellets. All is very much "life as ordinary" until an  unexpected kidnapping of the brothers serves as the film's inciting incident. The rest of the film follows the two brothers, Soren and Kludd, and the two very different paths they take. A battle breaks out between the Pure Ones (comparable to the Nazis and Hitler's beliefs in a superior race) and the Guardians (comparable to anyone who fights for freedom).

Ever since director Zack Snyder's worthy remake of the George A. Romero classic, "Dawn of the Dead," I have kept him on my radar. He went on to do "300" (more on that one later), the awaited adaptation of "Watchmen," this owlet epic, and then "Sucker Punch," released earlier this year. If you've seen anything of any of these after his first, you may have noticed an interesting trend. Snyder loves slow-motion. He loves it the way Hitchcock loves putting blondes in peril: can't quite seem to do a film without it. "The Legend of the Guardians" could do without half of the slow-mo moments, but even I cannot deny how dazzling a lot of them look. Speaking of the visuals, here is a film that will not disappoint. Much of the film is spent watching owls flying and fighting and it all looks great. These feathers in the wind are the best visuals of their kind this side of the viking beards in "How To Train Your Dragon." Perhaps the greatest feat is how these skillful animators constructed all these differing and interesting owls that we can actually distinguish between, even in the heat of battle.


The warfare is exhilarating. The owls use metals to forge intimidating helmets, armored beaks, and gauntlets for their claws. One owl brandishes blades (a la Baraka from "Mortal Kombat"). The winged warriors fly at each other with their talons raised and wings held back. It is rather fierce for what might be considered a children's film. To say this is "300" with owls is not a stretch, I half expected a particularly manly owl to shout, "This. Is. Ga'Hoole!" To say this is "The Lord of the Rings" with owls is more of a compliment in my book and one I am willing to extend. The narrative, adapted from the first three books in a lengthy series published by Scholastic, is one of legends proven true and causes worth the struggle. The ending even leaves some definite room for a sequel, which I'd be surprised if we ever received, but I would definitely be welcoming.

Many talent British actors (Helen Mirren, Geoffrey Rush, and Hugo Weaving) lend their voices to both sides of the narrative. Our protagonist, Soren, is voiced by Jim Sturgess who you will remember as the star of "Across the Universe" if ever you've seen it.

My least favorite part of the film is (you may have seen this coming) the integration of a pop song (by Owl City no less - oh, I see what you all did there, rather clever) during a training montage. As I lamented above, such as no place in this film or story or realm. If you insist and having it for the ending credits (which they of course do), fine, but please leave of out of the middle of the film. It may seem a grumpy aspect to gripe about, but I do feel it hurts the film. Even that is not enough to down the flight of this visual prize. Some actions do not seem entirely earned or merited, but they serve to keep the film's entire running time at just 90 minutes.

I remember when I first saw the trailer for "300." I was awed. I was sure it was going to be one of the year's best. To be certain, 2006 was an excellent year for films, but "300" had nothing to do with it as far as I am concerned. Compare that with how the trailer for "The Legend of the Guardians" made me feel and the pleasant surprise that it turned out to be. Based on those two trailer impressions I never would have thought that I would like "The Legend of the Guardians" more than "300," but oh, I do. May this serve as a reminder of the tricky impressions trailers can deliver and also as praise for the best owl film in recent years.




★★★½

CONTENT: glorified owl violence and some frightening sequences

 Updated 12/12/12

1 comment:

Bellator said...

"Glorified owl violence." Made me laugh! Seems like a pretty good film. I'll have to check it out someday. Yeah, when I have free time...