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- Movie: Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole
- Rating: PG
- Running Time: 1 hrs. 30 min.
- Starring (Voices): Jim Sturges, Ryan Kwanten, Hug Weaving, Geoffrey Rush, Helen Mirren, Sam Neill, Joel Edgerton, Anthony LaPaglia and Miriam Margolyes
- Written By: John Orloff and Emil Stern
- Directed By: Zack Snyder
- Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Legend of the Guardians Movie Review
Who Gives a Hoot?
By Rob Vaux
September 23, 2010
Legend of the Guardians Review
© Warner Bros./Bob Trate
I never figured Zack Snyder would produce anything like Legend of the Guardians. Then again, considering his copious use of computer imagery and penchant for the epic, it seems to be a natural fit. Snyder does best when transferring the work of others to the screen--in this case, a lengthy series of children’s books set in a magical world of owls--while still finding a way to add his own distinctive touch. Here, he creates a beautiful universe populated by huge trees, thundering waterfalls and different factions of sentient owls vying for dominance. All the elements are in place for a first-rate piece of filmmaking.
Yet the results somehow measure less than the sum of its parts. Though visually brilliant and imaginatively conceived, its central story adheres far too closely to shopworn mythic tropes. Films like this appeared every month or so in the wake of The Lord of the Rings. They’ve fallen out of favor recently, and Legend of the Guardians provides a textbook example of why.
Beyond the fact that they’re owls, the main characters might have emerged from any hackneyed fantasy novel. Two rival factions of owlkind--the noble Guardians and the evil Pure Ones--have been locked in combat for many years. The Pure Ones espouse crypto-fascist ideas about the superiority of some breeds over another, while the Guardians talk about noble things like honor and fair play. The story opens with two barn owl brothers--Soren (voiced by Jim Sturgess) and Kludd (voiced by Ryan Kwanten)--abducted by the Pure Ones and sent to their indoctrination camp. Kludd embraces their vision and becomes an evil warrior, while Soren endeavors to escape and find the Guardians in order to rescue the camp’s other owls.
Thus begins a textbook Epic Journey: marked by prophecies, challenges and a passel of wacky sidekicks who show up right on cue. Snyder uses his computer palette to create plenty of gorgeous landscapes for them to fly through, as well as several eye-popping combat sequences in which the owls don metal talons and helmets for ferocious mid-air dogfights. And yet for all the wonders on display, Legend of the Guardians insists on rushing through it all as quickly as possible. We have no chance to get the rhythm of this world, or understand its various nuances. We just dart from one point to the next, getting a brief look before hurrying on to the next spot on our tour.
The tendency also prevents us from identifying too closely with any of the characters, who largely remain blank ciphers. Helen Mirren shows promise as one of the lead Pure Ones and Geoffrey Rush displays some panache as an old teacher who may be more than he appears, but the remainder strictly adhere to boilerplate archetypes. We need more time to get to know them--to see what distinguishes Soren from Luke Skywalker or Harry Potter besides feathers and a beak--and thus become more invested in their struggles. Do that correctly and the visuals take care of themselves; do it poorly and no pretty picture in the world can save you.
As it stands, Legend of the Guardians feels like a sketch: a shorthand approximation of a much larger--and presumably worthwhile--story. The source material consists of sixteen books and several additional spin-offs. Snyder tries to cram too many of them into an abbreviated 90-minute running time. It robs the story of its flavor, leaving us bored and disaffected when we should be wide-eyed and fascinated. That further leeches the landscapes of their vitality, rendering them passive postcards rather than a living world.
Within that framework, everything feels calculated and overly polished. Even Snyder’s signature auteurial flourishes, like suddenly slowing down the action at pivotal moments, attain an air of affectation. He’s going through the motions because someone, somewhere expects it, not because it actually enhances the drama. So too does the remainder of Legend of the Guardians slip away, its would-be enthusiasm undermined by rampant mediocrity. How can we believe in this world if the filmmakers themselves have such little confidence in it?