25 October 2010

The Stoner's Van- LEGEND OF THE GUARDIANS Review

Enough time spent watching a nature channel like Discovery or Animal Planet will show you that there's far more to owls than the plushy-friendly post carriers they're depicted as in Harry Potter. They're vicious flying bastards who rain death down on any number of smaller animals. Zack Snyder's reclaiming their fearsome image with Legend of the Guardians- The Owls of Ga'Hoole.

It seems to be set in a world where owls are the dominant species instead of humans, with dynamics reminiscent of Watership Down or The Secret of NIMH. Our hero is Soren, an earnest young owl who's grown up with bedtime stories about the Guardians, the bold owl warriors who protect the world. His belief is put to the ultimate test when he and his brother Kludd are abducted and forced into an owlish brand of child soldiery by the self-proclaimed Pure Ones. It's down to Soren to find and alert the Guardians to the plight of owlkind.

As mentioned, there's a precedent for the lives of rabbits and mice being dramatised, so to all the detractors, I can only ask, why not owls? Funnily enough, the trailers have pushed this as coming "from the production studio that brought you Happy Feet" rather than "from the director of 300 and Watchmen." But it remains still a Zack Snyder film, so all credit to him for correctly thinking that owls fighting each other would make an engaging and enjoyable fantasy action film.

Animal Logic's work on the animation is fantastic, but it's also filled with Snyder's visual tics. It's not unmistakably one of his, but there's an appreciable amount of the slow motion that made 300 distinctive and which brought his version of Watchmen to over two and a half hours. It's good to see him doing something that's not laden with baggage like those films or his Dawn of the Dead remake, and it's a good sign for his upcoming Superman reboot.

Yes, Legend of the Guardians is just a film about owls fighting, but it's a film about owls fighting! Come on, you have to be a little curious, especially as I can report that it all looks magnificent. It looks as good as 3D possibly can, and the slow motion complements the excellent fight choreography, allowing your eyes to drink in every realistic flourish and nuanced visual detail. On the vocal side of things, we have some terrific Australian actors like Hugo Weaving, Sam Neill and David Wenham lending their wise and austere tones to feathered counterparts, while Jim Sturgess does a passable Aussie Frodo turn.

I say Aussie Frodo because The Lord of the Rings is just one of the influences that the film wears on its sleeve. It's Joseph Campbell's narrative structure down to a tee, and more pertinent to younger viewers, it's basically Star Wars, right down to the climactic scenes. The imperious bad guy, Metalbeak, is oddly reminiscent of Colonel Kurtz from Apocalypse Now in places, but the plot's basically making him out as Owl Hitler. Sorry, but if you're not booking tickets now you know it's a film about warrior owls fighting some white supremacist owls, I don't know how else to sell it to you.

Even though the story is formulaic, there are only a couple of beats where I cringed. For one thing, there's a montage in the middle, filled with the kind of visual world-building that James Cameron drew out to its fullest length in Avatar. That's fine, but it's set to a pop song by Owl City. Aside from jarring with David Hirschfelder's sweeping score through the rest of the film, it's a little too on the nose (or beak)- it's like setting a montage about a chattering guinea pig finding fame and fortune to a Justin Bieber song.

In mentioning Avatar though, I should mention that Legend of the Guardians is basically this year's answer to that film. Its sumptuous and fantastic visuals, straight from the side of a stoner's van, are worth the price of admission alone, but story-wise, it's nothing we haven't seen a million times before. That said, I think it's more impressive than this half-term's other unoriginal animated offering, Despicable Me and it's not doing as well as James Cameron's film at the box office, but then Snyder will be busier with the Man of Steel anyway. The concept is so out there that I think they had to make the story more ordinary to make it the serviceable family fantasy that it is.

Legend of the Guardians- The Owls of Ga'Hoole is now showing in 2D and 3D at cinemas nationwide.
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If you've seen Legend of the Guardians- The Owls of Ga'Hoole, why not share your comments below? More than just owls fighting, this also has bats with knife-tipped wings. Even Batman never thought to give knives to bats... and he's Batman!

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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