Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole
Review by Jack Foley
AN ANIMATED children’s movie about owls may seem like a weird choice for a director of Zack Snyder’s sensibilities, but closer inspection reveals there is actually plenty of appeal.
Far from treating its subjects as cuddly, knowing creatures, the ensuing tale – based on the first three books in a 15-volume series by children’s author Kathryn Lasky – plays out like a cross between the knights of the round table and Star Wars with elements of The Lord of the Rings thrown in for good measure.
As such, it provides plenty of room for Snyder’s trademarks – slow motion, big battles, epic struggles – while showing that he’s more versatile than perhaps audiences have previously given him credit for.
It should come as little surprise, therefore, to note that Legend of The Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole is visually spectacular, making terrific – often breathtaking – use of its 3D format and often coming to life in single, virtuoso moments.
It’s just a shame, then, that it’s also burdened by a slightly flat storyline that does nothing really special within the genre, and struggles to deliver any truly memorable characters.
The plot is very simple, following the adventures of a young owl named Soren (voiced by Jim Sturgess), who is enthralled by his father’s epic stories of the Guardians of Ga’Hoole, a mythic band of winged warriors who had fought a great battle to save all of owl-kind from the evil Pure Ones.
While Soren dreams of one day meeting his heroes, his older brother, Kludd (Ryan Kwanten) scoffs at the notion and yearns instead to steal his father’s favour from Soren. But once both are kidnapped by the Pure Ones, they embark on two very different journeys.
Soren sets off to find the Guardians and set his fellow captives free from the Pure Ones ,while Kludd sees an opportunity to carve a new, more dominant life, by currying favour with their evil head queen (voiced by Helen Mirren).
Admittedly, Snyder’s movie embodies the classic good versus evil tussle, as played out on a grand scale between the warring owl armies, and on a more intimate one between the two brothers.
But it’s sometimes difficult to differentiate between the various owls, while the structure of the film is geared more towards exhilarating set pieces than building any lasting sense of emotion. As a result, it doesn’t really tug at the heart-strings as it should.
Some of the battle sequences and darker elements of the story may also be a little too intense for younger viewers – although fans of Snyder’s work on 300 will probably lap up the slow-mo aerial combat scenes, which are often stunning in their attention to detail.
Indeed, visually is where Legend of the Guardians delivers most… revelling in the director’s assured eye for spectacle and slow-motion moments. A rain-swept flight close to the waves, which captures every wind-beaten feather and every drop of water in astonishing detail, is just one of several sequences to marvel over, and which genuinely benefit from the 3D format.
While an experienced cast does at least bring some notion of charisma to some of the characters, even if both Soren and Kludd suffer from being a little too black and white.
Mirren lends expected gravitas to her wicked queen, Geoffrey Rush adds colour to Ezylryb, and David Wenham (a 300 veteran) adds playfulness to Digger.
But try as hard as it might, Legend of the Guardians falls some way short of attaining classic status, while still managing to mark Snyder out as an extremely accomplished visual stylist.
Superman now beckons for him and Christopher Nolan, and even though his owl movie remains deeply flawed, you can’t help but feel more than a little excited by such a union.
Running time: 90mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: April 11, 2011
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