Owls are badass. O rly? Ya rly. ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Owls are badass. O rly? Ya rly.

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole
My rating:

Could this movie have a more dull and generic title? Seriously. I mean, I know, it's based on a young adult fantasy novel series called Guardians of Ga'Hoole, which lacks the name recognition of, say, Harry Potter. So, worried that people unfamiliar with the books would think Ga'Hoole sounds goofy (which it does), the producers gave it a title that tells us two things: 1) it's about some folks who must be good guys because they guard stuff, and 2) there's, like, a legend about them. Am I the only one who has a beef against movie titles that start with "Legend of the"? We're the audience - we'll decide if your movie is legendary or not, thank you very much.

Okay, so the title sucks. The movie's pretty good though.

Soren (Jim Sturgess) is a young owl who lives with his family, including brother Kludd (Ryan Kwanten) and younger sister Eglantine (Adrienne deFaria). One day they are kidnapped by the Pure Ones, led by the evil Metalbeak (Joel Edgerton) and his mate Nyra (Helen Mirren) who are raising an army of owls to conquer the world. Kludd falls for their fascistic ideology, but Soren and a fellow captive named Gylfie (Emily Barclay) manage to escape. Later they meet other owls Digger (David Wenham) and Twilight (Anthony LaPaglia) and Soren's nest-maid snake Mrs. P (Miriam Margolyes), who join them on their quest to find the Guardians of Ga'Hoole and seek their help to rescue the kidnapped owlets from the Pure Ones. But finding the Guardians is only half the battle; Soren will have much to learn from the grizzled veteran Ezylryb (Geoffrey Rush) about the true nature of heroism.

Sweet Lord, this is one beautiful film. It's the first time I wished I'd watched a 3D movie in 3D, regretting my usual cheapskatery. The owl characters are incredibly expressive, and every flutter of feathers is gorgeously animated. The visual design is pretty neat too, especially the Pure Ones' craggy lair and the Guardians' badass helms and steel talons. But two scenes that stand out are the rainstorm in which Ezylryb teaches Soren a lesson in flying, and a forest fire during the action-packed climax. I would've called these scenes photorealistic, if it weren't that not even photorealism could be so breathtakingly composed in every raindrop and lick of flame. It trumps even Pixar's Finding Nemo, the previous title-holder in beautifully realistic CG animation.

It's a pity then that the story doesn't match up to the visuals. It's not even that it's generic epic fantasy (I like epic fantasy, generic or not) - it's that the story is cobbled from no less than three novels in the series, and the seams show. Writers John Orloff and John Collee and director Zack Snyder (yes, that Zack Snyder) do a bang-up job in weaving the books into a cohesive and well-paced narrative, but not without sacrifices. A number of supporting characters get short shrift - what purpose does Mrs. P serve here anyway? Or Eglantine? Or this other Guardian whom Soren meets named Otulissa? It's obvious that all these characters have much more detailed stories in the books that the movie just doesn't have time to delve into.

But the sorest shortcoming is in the world-building. The Pure Ones' home base is called St. Aegolius - which is, like, gee, kinduva pretty name for an evil HQ, innit? Not like Mordor or the Death Star or even Snake Mountain. But it turns out that St. Aegolius is an actual orphanage for owlets, which the bad guys have co-opted to recruit soldiers and slave labour. Ah, so these are civilised owls then, complete with social welfare system? There's a brief mention of "owl kingdoms" in the dialogue, but we sure don't see none of 'em. And who are these Guardians anyway? What do they guard? Are they like some kinda Jedi Knights of the owl world? I think they are, but again, none of this is made very clear. We just never know what's so special about them, or why they're so legen - wait for it - dary.

And our protagonist is this total fanboy of the Guardians, and he's so earnest and passionate and believes in them so much that it's honestly quite annoying. Compounding this is Jim Sturgess' voice performance, which must be one of the whiniest I've ever heard in an animated film; I'm tempted to side with Kludd in wanting Soren to just shut up about the Guardians already. It doesn't help either that he gets the standard-order "believe in yourself" character arc that just comes off as tacked-on and cliched. We've seen it before in most other animated movies, but it works better when the hero has a more likable personality.

But I carp too much. It's still pretty good, and it gets genuinely fun and exciting towards the end. Snyder hired stuntmen to choreograph the owl fight scenes, and their efforts pay off in some really cool action scenes. I'm generally not a fan of Snyder's slo-mo-fast-mo style, but I have to admit that it works here in showcasing the avian martial art that they've created. It also helps that one of the climactic fights has a real Darth-Vader-vs-Ben-Kenobi weight of history behind it that makes it all the more thrilling - that is, when it doesn't keep cutting back to the comparatively dull Soren-vs-Kludd fight. That's about it for Legend of the Guardians' pleasures that go deeper than the surface; cool fight scenes and very pretty pictures are pretty much the most it has to offer. But it is a very shiny surface nonetheless.

NEXT REVIEW: The Joshua Tapes
Expectations: indie road movie? Looooww


k0k s3n w4i said...

indie road movies aren't always bad. little miss sunshine, for example.

so, did you guess that digger was voiced by david wenham or did wikipedia tip you off?

TMBF said...

@k0k s3n w4i: No I didn't guess, but I'm not exactly flabbergasted. Eric Bana did a similar thing in Finding Nemo. Might be an Australian thing. :)

Chris Cutter said...

Wow this review was really good. I agree with you on most parts, and was looking to review this movie myself on my own blog eventually. Something I heard but had trouble finding out myself and hearing in the film is they say Hugo Weaving does some voice acting in this. Who does he voice?

TMBF said...

@CrazedInsomniac: According to Wikipedia, he played Noctus and Grimble.