Does Snyder’s live-action background, however, contribute or rail against his ability to direct in the virtual world? Can the man famous for gratuitous homoerotic violence bring audiences into the warmth of a family film? And, most importantly, can a movie about owls really be that good? Find out after the jump.
While the story of Legend of the Guardians may center on owls and present names that belong to Middle Earth or a Scottish drunk, at it’s center the plot is not any new territory for the experienced moviegoer. Derived from a series of books bearing a similar name, the film begins with the kidnapping of an owl named Soren. He is taken to an owl orphanage run by a group of elitist “pure ones” that, as any good villains do, claim that what isn’t theirs should be and those who have it are weak. Those who have it are the mythical (and some say legendary) Guardians of Ga’Hoole, a band of owls who long ago delivered these pure ones a pure kick right in the pure nuts. Under this regime, Soren is faced with the haunting proposition of being moonblinked – turned into an owl zombie – and forced to collect powerful metal flecks. Soren escapes and sets out on a journey to call on the Guardians of Ga’Hoole to stop this injustice.
From there on out, what follows is a classic, some might say cliched, adventure story. And when I say some might say cliched, I mean it is. I can only comment on the story of the film, as I have not read the books, but it’s plotline is often predictable. As one of the characters yells, “it was foretold!” That’s how I felt during much of Legend of the Guardians. Just because there are odd names to places doesn’t mean that we haven’t been there before.
All great stories are certainly told with the good vs. evil tinge, but the difference between the good and the best is the ability to hide the allegory and trap us in the world. With Legend of the Guardians, it never really feels complete in that sense. The basic storytelling is solid, but like the moonblinked zombie owls, it serves its purpose then moves along. There isn’t much that can be called “revelatory.” I can, however, say that the pacing of the film felt solid, gliding along with confidence as the owls spent much of the movie. Simply put, it’s a film that I’ve seen before as early as 2009’s Avatar. Perhaps that’s because the wilderness setting, the CGI and the 3D were all stark reminders of a Pandoric land, not to mention the extended sequences of flying.
Of course, I don’t mean this to be an ill comparison. While the story may have been cliche, Snyder’s visual tour-de-force is the true reason why this film was interesting and undoubtedly why it is able to succeed. It also helps that the films storytelling shortcomings can be attributed to the simple nature of what is essentially a family film. Family isn’t where Snyder is used to being, however. But war and action is. This film features plenty of both and Snyder’s handling of it all seems to elude the comfort of familiar territory for the director.
Compared to his other efforts, Snyder’s tendencies fit into the digital realm with better ease. Extended, sweeping camera moves are much more natural and warranted in this film as well as the dramatic color graded lighting that Snyder so obviously loves. The camerawork, while virtual and therefore somewhat less perceived, is magnificent. As mentioned, the camera follows with great ferocity the dipping and diving of the owls, all while maintaining a fluid feel to it. At times there were some “virtual crane” shots that it seemed the frame was jolting a bit – as if there were a real crane there. I also noticed a few zooms and other camera moves that you don’t often watch in an animated movie but helped to bring a sense of grounding to this movie.
When it comes down to it the lighting, the camera work, the animation is so beautifully magnificent. It certainly balances on the line between reality and surreal, providing us with such soft looking owls yet insanely picture perfect backgrounds and framing. There is no frame of imperfection in this movie, each moment is gorgeously touched with a sense of artistry it’s hard to turn away.
Watching the film in three-dimensions only compounds this. While there aren’t many in-your-face moments, the depth that the 3D provides is welcoming and enthralling and the atmosphere of individual rain drops or broken tips of flames is awesome.
Many thought 300 was groundbreaking in it’s visuals and Snyder is able to channel the best of what he learned on that film into this. Without the worry of live action, the director is able to perfect what he needs and with the help of the animation studio, turns in a film that is composed thoughtfully and with confidence. For a director who has worked much with graphic novels and comic books, he seemed to try and create one of his own in this film.
What many graphic novels do not have, however, is a soundtrack. While the director’s job is not to compose a score, it is theirs to mold and knead to the tone of their liking. The score to Legend of the Guardians is completely forgetful; so much so that I am not able to recall a single piece or motif from it. The only music I can remember from the film is the song that accompanies a cheesy montage 2/3 into the movie and comes on again at the end credits. It eeks of family rock n roll, kids bop in the middle of the movie. It took me out of the moment entirely.
That didn’t seem to be a trend, however, as most of the film is enrapturing between the swift visuals, slick 3D and accompanying voice performances. It’s a cast full of recognizable voices (Jim Sturgess as Soren, Joel Edgerton as the main villain) that turn in performances that service the story completely. Out of them all, though, Edgerton’s villain is the only true memorable performance. His deep surging voice combined with the slow melodic drawl of those oh-so-evil pure ones was both soothing and maniacal – bewitching and satanic – opposite of Sturgess’ best Elijah Wood impression.
This seems to be the main problem with Legend of the Guardians, it trades in something magnificent for something mediocre. Where the imagery was fantastic and inspired, the story seemed predictable and mundane. While the pacing of the film soared like the owls, the music often tumbled like moonblinked owlettes. It’s this give and go that is the films biggest weakness and largest hurdle.
Regardless of these obstacles, however, Legend of the Guardians is a positive cinema-going experience. One that should be a mainstay in theaters for families looking to get away from Halloween Horror fare. Snyder, coupled with animation studio Animal Logic, has crafted a feast of artistic imagery that glides and soars through the 3D landscape with incredible ease. While the story may not keep you on the edge of your seat, the 3D, the animation and Mr. Edgerton’s voice should be enough to suck you in.
Legends of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole is a film that travels high and makes the jump, but never fully spreads it’s wings.
Directed by: Zack Snyder
Starring: Jim Sturgess, Joel Edgerton, Emily Barclay, David Wenham, Geoffrey Rush, Hugo Weaving, Ryan Kwanten, Anthony LaPaglia
Synopsis: A young owl must travel vast distances to contact the legendary Guardians of Ga’Hoole to prevent evil forces from conquering the land.
Runtime: 90 min