Judge Gordon Sullivan says, "Give a hoot, don't pollute."
On his way to finding a legend…he will become one
Owls have great PR. Media have convinced us that they're wise creatures, even if they aren't always cute 'n' cuddly. But really, owls are freakin' scary. Even if you're not like me…having experienced a giant barn owl just a few feet overhead swooping down at dusk with its six foot wingspan…it's easy to respect that they're amazing hunters because of acute senses, strong wings, and sharp claws. Plus, they work best at night, when we humans are at a loss without artificial light. So really, it's natural that someone (Kathryn Lasky) came up with a fantasy series based anthropomorphic owls: Guardians of Ga'Hoole. It's even more natural that in the post-Potter era that the series has been adapted for film. The choice to have 300 auteur Zack Snyder helm the project is surprising, but he ropes in a solid cast of voice actors for a CGI-based fantasy epic that hits all the right notes but can't help coming off a bit generic in the end.
Facts of the Case
Combining elements from the first three books in the series, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole follows young owl Soren (Jim Sturgess, Across the Universe) as he's captured by evil owls who plan to brainwash him (along with other owlets) into an army. When he and a friend escape, they journey to Ga'Hoole to find the legendary Guardians who will help foil the plans of these evil Pure Ones.
Legend of the Guardians is Myth with a big ol' capital M. It's a young hero's journey as he discovers the evil of the world and the means to fight it. The film has all the major markers, from the "bad" brother to the use of prophecy (not to mention the epic final battle). The film is practically textbook. That's not a problem necessarily (especially for a kids' film), but it does mean that the film offers little in the way of new content. So Legend of the Guardians has to rely on execution.
On the visual front, no one is going to fault the film. Zack Snyder, fresh off the visual success of his 300 and Watchmen films, knows how to direct an action sequence. More importantly, he lets the action pull a lot of the film's weight. Even when there aren't any fight scenes, Snyder plays up the drama of owls flying, with loads of swooping and soaring. Being an entirely CGI effort that aims at a 3D and photorealistic style, Legends of the Guardians takes a few minutes to get viewers acclimated. Most people probably associate owls with the Harry Potter franchise and can identify one or maybe two breeds, but Legends spends a bit of time introducing us to the features of numerous breeds, many of which viewers won't have seen before. However, once the opening credits have rolled and we're introduced to Soren's family, the film has clearly established a visual world that feels complete and realistic.
The film's other strong component is the voice acting, which audiences have demonstrated is an essential component for the success of an animated film. Legend of the Guardians utilizes a variety of Australian actors (or British actors using Australian accents). For American audiences this gives the owls of Ga'Hoole a slightly exotic sound, and while adults are likely to recognize many of the voices, younger viewers will probably only connect these voices to the characters, making them all the more magical. For non-American audiences the cast of Aussies just means the film has a collection of top-notch actors. Actors like Geoffrey Rush, Hugo Weaving, and David Wenham are veterans of fantasy influenced films, and they bring authority to their avian roles. Their British counterparts, like Helen Mirren and Richard Roxburgh, don't disappoint either. Although I find it difficult to recommend an animated film based solely on vocal talent, Legend of the Guardians makes up for a lot of its narrative familiarity by casting such heavy hitters behind the mics.
Although Legends of the Guardians didn't conquer the box office, it gets a strong Blu-ray release. The edition under review here is the regular Blu-ra…this set does not include the 3D version of the film that played in theaters formatted for 3D players and monitors. But, this is a combo pack that includes the Blu-ray, a DVD of the film, and a Digital Copy for portable players.
Because it's a CGI feature, there's nothing (aside from a little compression) to stand between the film and digital perfection. That's obvious in the 2.41:1 AVC transfer included here. Colors pop, blacks are inky, and detail is strong throughout. Whatever you might think of Synder's trademark fast-to-slow motion camera work, it really allows the animators to show their stuff. Individual feathers are often fun to watch as wind and rain lash the owls. The audio is equally impressive. Dialogue is easily audible, despite the fact that almost every scene features swelling music, screeching sound effects, and the din of battle. Both the sub-woofer and surrounds get a workout and the thunderous soundtrack definitely helps the movie along.
Most of the extras are aimed at the younger crowd. They start with the "Maximum Kid Mode," and much like Snyder's other home video releases, this one offers a wealth of information on the world of the film. There's info on the film's production, the world of the story, and info about the different kinds of owls we see in the film. We also get "Rise of the Guardians," a peek at the bedtime story that Soren is so fond of. There's a bit of a heartstring tugging with "True Guardians of the Earth" which looks at real owls and how they need protection. There are also four different artwork galleries that examine the owls (good and evil) and the locations. There's a music video for "To the Sky" by Owl City, and a new Looney Tunes short "Fur of Flying." Finally, the film's trailer and a pair of interactive games are included.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
If you're not a fan of Zack Snyder's style then Legend of the Guardian is not for you. He takes his trademark fast-to-slow action shots into the realm of animated owls here. I don't mind the technique too much, but it did feel a bit overdone at times here. The film also features a lot of action sequences, some of them quite intense (as befits an epic fantasy series). Parents with sensitive children might want to give this disc a spin before putting youngsters in front of the film.
I'm not at all familiar with the source novels. The young lady I know who is was generally satisfied with the film. However, fan mileage may vary since this flick does compress three books into a single 97 minute film.
I had no investment in Legends of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole going in. I hadn't read the books and I'm not a die-hard Zack Snyder fan. However, by the time the final credits, rolled I was pretty satisfied. The film may not offer anything new as far as story is concerned, but Snyder brings a careful eye to the animated feature and the voice actors bring their A-game to the characters. It's probably worth at least a rental for fans of the director, families with fantasy inclined children, or CGI lovers.
The Owls of Ga'Hoole won't quite become legendary with this film, but
they offer enough pleasure to be not guilty.
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