Monday, March 14, 2011

Review: Legend of the Guardians - The Owls of Ga'Hoole

Let’s talk a little bit about Zack Snyder.
The number of films under his belt is relatively small in and, in many ways, he came out of nowhere as a force in Hollywood during the mid-2000s.  After making the successful Dawn of the Dead remake Snyder went on to direct movie adaptations of the comic books 300 and The Watchman, both to a somewhat mixed fan reaction.  But in any case he’s made darker, R-Rated films for pretty much his entire career as a major motion picture director.  So upon hearing that he was directing an animated feature based on the Guardians of Ga’Hoole series of books many people were confused, myself included.  Written by Kathryn Lasky from 2003 to 2008 and fifteen books strong it is one of many fantasy book series being turned into big budget Hollywood films in the wake of the ultra success of Harry Potter.  In fact the first warning sign about this film is that it strangely is not based on one book but rather the first three books of the series, The Capture, The Journey and The Escape.  Uh oh.
Actually the first warning sign is that a guy best known for a zombie film and a flick about three hundred dudes killing all of Persia is directing a film supposedly made for young folk.  But hey, maybe this film is a turning point for him.  Maybe he’s getting away from the more violent style he has been known for and more towards a family friendly affair from now on.  What’s his next project, anyway?
Hot chicks w/ Guns & Swords.  Plot: Optional
Oh.  Well.  Um.  He’s directing a new Superman movie as well at some point.  That counts, right?  Right?
Full review after the jump.
Nothing obviously evil about this shot at all.  Nope
Soren (Jim Sturgess) and Kludd (Ryan Kwanten) are two young Barn Owls who have yet to properly learn how to fly.  They are often told stories about the Guardians of Ga’Hoole by their father and while Soren loves the old stories Kludd is skeptical.  One day they are both kidnapped by mysterious Long-eared Owls and brought far from their home.  They, along with a legion of kidnapped young owls, are told they will work for Metal Beak from now on as pickers and soldiers.  Soren plots to escape and possibly, somehow, reach his heroes the Guardians.
Fun fact: this movie was not nominated for Best Animated Feature at the 83rd Academy Awards.  Was it snuffed?  I’m not sure.  On the one hand with only three films nominated at all it seems like many movies were just flat-out ignored, but on the other hand I know for sure that Toy Story 3 and How to Train Your Dragon are both much better films than this one (I haven’t see The Illusionist).  Anyway The Legend of the Guardians features a really cool fantasy world.  Even ignoring the talking owls the idea of these factions and the Guardians is a really neat concept, obviously a testament to the source material.   Similarly what little we see of the various owls is very intriguing.  Although somewhat superficial the various owls have distinct and varied personalities and the movie does a good job in making me want to see more of them.  I’m thinking the books might be pretty cool.
Two brothers who I'm sure will be on good terms by the end-
Oh.  Oh my no.
The plot structure follows what I call the “Dorothy Gale Plot”; a young hero forced into a situation they didn’t ask for go on a journey of salvation, making loyal allies along the way, and in the end become an unlikely savior.  Sound familiar?  Yeah, it’s been done before but ultimately it’s the uniqueness of the world our heroes explore and the likability of the characters that make this sort of plot work and as I said those two aspects are pretty good.  So yes maybe I saw this exact storyline in Star Wars and a thousand other places since the beginning of time but it works well enough despite that.  Also there are some aspects of the film that reminded me of the Don Bluth style of animation film making, especially during some of the darker, scarier moments.  Oh don’t get me wrong; Bluth’s best films are still a hundred times better than this flick but I can tell you it’s closer to The Secret of NIHM than it is to Cars; that’s a good thing.
The problem comes from one major source; that this movie moves waaaaaay too fast.  Once Soren and Kludd are captured the plot takes off like a rocket and never slows down.  Does that excite you, Mister “Action-Movies-Are-Awesome-RAR”?  Good for you.  For the rest of you folk you’ll be saddened to hear that things like character development are sacrificed.  I mentioned there were some neat characters but we don’t ever really get to know them.  Sure Twilight seems quirky yet cool but we barely learn anything about him.  Plus it feels like we’re missing a ton of plot…which it turns out we are.   Snyder tries to fit three novels into one movie, which by itself would make it extremely difficult to fit everything in but to make matters worse the film’s only an hour and a half long.  I’m sorry for you folks with weak bladders reading this blog who prefer shorter films but if you’re going to make a move adaptation of ONE novel you would need at least two hours, preferably between two and a half to three, to really tell the full story.  Trying to cram THREE books into a ninety minute motion picture is basically telling fans of the book “Hey guys, I know fellows like the source material and all but I’m going to have to jettison about 60% of the story.”
The rulers of Ga'Hoole who basically do nothing throughout the film
You know, just like real politicians (Cue rim shot)
And it shows!  We quickly go from one scene to the next despite indication that it should take much more time and be much more perilous than it ends up being, and the movie repeatedly puts characters it didn’t bother to have us connect with beyond the surface level with in danger to build tension.  What do I care if some owl who’s name I’ve already forgotten is about to be killed?  Also that song they keep playing, “To the Skies”, sucks.  A lot.  And it kills the fantasy mood.  Maybe this is because the musical group Owl City sucks.  This may be speculation on my part.
This movie isn’t bad.  It’s actually pretty decent all things considered and probably a little better than the reviews initially gave it credit for.  It’s not on the same level as the higher acclaimed animated films of 2010 but its still worth a watch.  It completely fails to live up to its potential and makes many weird changes to the original book (That I won’t get into here) but if nothing else Zack Snyder demonstrates that he does have some room to move in his range as a director (Although there’s plenty of slow-motion to be found in the flick; this is still a Zack Snyder film after all).  Check it out if you were on the fence before, but if you’re a big fan of Snyder films just be aware that this isn’t his typical outing.  It’s better than a lot of films out there (CoughcoughShrek4coughcough), but much worse than it should have been.
Also let's start referring to this guy as "The Good Twilight"
I’ll throw Legend of the Guardians a bone and give it 3 Adorable Pandas out of 5.
-Not afraid to utilize darker elements
-Features a great setting
-Takes a carving knife to the source material, apparently
-Plot moves way too fast


  1. Beta,

    Nice review here, and I think you pretty much nailed how I felt about the film too - for the most part.

    I haven't read the books, but after watching the movie I am tempted to do so. Anyway, I am sure that the plot was severely cut (because that is usually what happens when books are made into movies - especially if 3 of them are used as the source material!) but I didn't feel that it was too rushed. I think I got the main idea but who knows? After I read the books I'll let you know!

    I totally agree with your Pros, though. I am not a really big fan of happy-go-lucky Disney type movies, so I appreciated the darker elements here. And I thought the setting was superb!

    Anyway, if you are interested you can check out my review of the movie here: Overall my whole family enjoyed it - which was a pleasant surprise - and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys fantasy movies.


  2. Thanks for posting, Rusty. I read your review. I think your point about the voice acting is very valid. That type of thing happens pretty often in Hollywood film sadly enough.

  3. Yeah,

    You're right about it happening a lot in films. I guess the reason it bothered me in this movie was because of the animation. I mean, they were all owls living in relatively close proximity - I would think they would all speak the same. Anyway, it was only a minor annoyance in an otherwise great film.