Member Review By Oddmuninn
Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, USA / Australia, 2010
Directed by Zack Snyder
Some movies we watch purely for the spectacle. There’s nothing wrong with that, but in my book, a film has to earn its right through good story and characterization to impress me with its special effects. Or if it can’t do that, it at least has to be so fun that I’m enjoying myself too much to care. Unfortunately, there are far too many films that do neither, and Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole is one of them.
The first time I saw the trailer for this animated film, it immediately appealed to my inner fantasy geek. It features a bright-eyed hero who is as in love with stories and myths as I am. The fact that the main character is a CG owl was no deterrent, as I’ve always liked movies that anthropomorphize animals, as long as they do it well. This one certainly does. However, the creators forgot to add one important element: heart.
The film follows Soren (voiced by Jim Sturgess), a young barn owl enamored with legends of a noble band of owls known as the “Guardians of Ga’Hoole.” Soren and his brother Kludd (voiced by Ryan Kwanten) are captured and taken to St. Aggie’s Academy, which brainwashes owlets in order to create an army. While Kludd willingly joins their cause, Soren escapes, and he and a group of newfound friends seek out the Guardians to ask them to fight this threat.
I credit the film for immersing us in this fantastical world, but Snyder moves the pacing at such a break-neck speed that I never felt any real attachment to characters or place. For instance, Soren has barely gotten to St. Aggie’s before he is already escaping, thanks to an owl that shows up just long enough for me to not care one bit about his fate.
Part of the problem is that what should have been the emotional core of this film – Soren’s camaraderie with his friends – rings hollow. Not only does their coming together feel contrived, but Soren’s friends are never really crucial to his character development or the story itself. The writers even have to tell us with the help of an echidna soothsayer (no, I’m not making this up) that they will become a close family. I guess he got that one wrong, because we sure don’t see it actually happen.
If you can ignore the script, Legend of the Guardians actually has a lot going for it. The voice acting is quite good, and Sturgess (Across The Universe) brings a naive determination to the role of Soren that works very well. The rest of the owls are just as well-cast, in particular Hugo Weaving as Grimble and Geoffrey Rush as the warrior Ezylryb.
The animation is gorgeous, favoring textured realism over the doughy, cartoonish look you get in DreamWorks films such as Kung Fu Panda (2008). The use of glowing orange light and simulated lens flares is a matter of taste, but overall it works quite well given the often dark subject matter (I’m not convinced that just because this is animated, that makes it a kid’s film).
I also enjoyed Snyder’s techniques such as racking focus (shifting the viewer’s attention by allowing one part of the image to go out of focus) that mimicked the use of an actual camera. That said, I could really have done without the excessive use of 300-esque slow-mo which, while good for drinking games, is highly distracting to the point of comedy.
When all is said and done, Legend of the Guardians is not a terrible movie. However, considering the amount of effort obviously spent animating it, and the fairly unique concept, it’s really disappointing that the best I can do is damn it with faint praise.
Please comment on Oddmuninn’s Movie Review in the forums!