December 16, 2010

Smooth Flight! Minimal Turbulence!

Well, color me dumbfounded, because I am a douche! When the trailers for Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole came out, I scoffed. Why the hell should I care about some kiddy movie about birds. Even when I heard that Zack Snyder was directing it, I still scoffed. I viewed it as Snyder selling out, doing something lame and not worth his time to rake in a few extra dollars in between making his next exploration of awesome!!! And then I saw the thing. Wow! I certainly didn't expect that. Guardians is not the kiddy, overly dramatic film that was advertised. What it is is a surprisingly mature, dark and violent tale told with a truly marvelous aesthetic touch. Though the story and script leaves something to be desired, and some of the character interactions and motivations are hopelessly contrived, Guardians is a film that should not be overlooked. It's not as kiddy as was advertised. It's a technical marvel. It's just good, plain and simple!

Aesthetic Pleasures

Legend of the Guardians takes place in a world where owls are the main population. You know, one of those fantasy worlds. Anyway,  like any good society, these owls have their legends and fables, the most popular of which concerns the Owls of Ga'Hoole, defenders of all this is good and righteous and, well, kiddy, in the world, and how they defeated the evil Metalbeak in an epic battle. One owl, Soren, loves these stories, and firmly believes that they are true, and not just fables. This belief is not shared by his brother, Kludd, which leads to their relationship being a bit strained. One day, the two of them fall out of their nest and are promptly snatched by a group of owls, who take them to the domain of Metalbeak, who is indeed real. See, the tyrant is attempting one of those classic, take over the world type moves, and to do this, he is kidnapping and brainwashing children to build his army of Pure Ones. Well, Soren isn't having any of that, and escapes with the help of a new friend, Gylfie, to journey across the world to find and alert the Guardians. Kludd, on the other hand, decides to stay behind and joins Metalbeak. Craziness ensues.

Based off the book series Guardians of Ga'Hoole, Legend covers the first three books in the series. As far as fantasy stories with magic, good vs. evil, and epicness go, this one isn't really up to snuff. The bad guys are just bad. The good guys are just good. You get the cliched character archetypes, the righteous hero, the treacherous main villain, the valiant love interest, the kooky couple of allies, the traitor who plays his card in the end. You know. Typical stuff.

That being said, it's not terrible either. The plot moves at a good clip, and you can easily root for the good guys and boo and hiss at the bad guys. As far as kids films go, this one is surprisingly dark. Don't be surprised if the little ones are scared by this one. The film isn't shy about showing intense combat, multiple deaths, and surprisingly disturbing forms of brainwash and torture. It earns that PG rating, and almost begins to push towards PG-13. You wouldn't expect that from a film proudly proclaiming that it's made from the same studio that made Happy Feet, now would you?

Since it's an animated film, all the acting here is of the voice kind, which puts me in a difficult situation. I just can't right about voice acting. I can't do it! I mean, I can talk about the acting as a whole, but singling out particular people just seems stupid. Anyway...

Amazingly, the voice acting in this is top notch. Like, it's at Pixar levels of good! Every actor here imbues their character with plenty of emotional substance, giving the story a healthy amount of extra weight. Standouts include David Wenham as the wired and crazy Digger, Geoffrey Rush as the wise and weathered Ezylryb, Ryan Kwanten as the treacherous Kludd, and Helen Mirren as the deceptive and seductive Nyra. Jim Sturgess as main hero Soren is alright, but he sounds like too much of a pussy for the whole movie. He sounds like he's on the verge of tears pretty much all the time. He's the only real stain on an otherwise spotless bunch of voice actors.

That's some freakish water!
The real star here though is director Zack Snyder, whose trademark flare for visuals is presented here in full effect! Legend of the Guardians is a gorgeous film, a true visual wonder! Snyder's films have always been intoxicating to look at, but, since he wasn't hindered by cameras and could frame every shot on a computer, he takes it to a whole new level here. There are countless breathtaking images to see here, starting with the very first shot of the whole movie. And unlike most films that shoot their load early on, Guardians keeps upping the visual ante as it progresses. The scene that sees Soren and co learn fly through a storm is one of the most visually astounding things ever put on film!

Snyder's trademark, "speed up, slow down" action scenes are also used to great effect here. Though Legend of the Guardians isn't as violent as 300 or Watchmen, there are still plenty of sequences that get the blood pumping. Though the final action scene is kind of blah by comparison to the ones that came before it, it is still pretty cool looking, and very intense. There's quite a lot at stake in Legend of the Guardians, and Snyder's visuals do a good job of emphasizing this, often pulling back to show the full scope of goings on and what not. It's a good job. 

I have some crow to look forward to for dinner tonight. I shouldn't have written off the film when I first heard about it. When looking at the final product, you will see that it is actually well worth your time. It's not the best animated film ever. It's not even Zack Snyder's best film. What it is is a technical wonder for a more mature audience. Though the scripting prevents it from achieving true greatness, the visuals more than make up for it. Though they may not be the most loquacious of birds, these owls are about as graceful as they come!


  1. After all the negative feedback, I expected a pretty mediocre animated flick. Well, I was pleasantly surprised. I thought it was absolutely brilliant, in terms of visuals and entertainment value.

  2. After all the negative feedback, I expected a pretty mediocre animated flick. Well, I was pleasantly surprised. I thought it was absolutely brilliant, in terms of visuals and entertainment value.