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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole

Title: Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga-Hoole

Year of Release: 2010

Date Viewed: September 30th, 2010

MPAA Rating: PG

I wish everyone could have seen my surprise when I learned that the man responsible for the book-to-film adaptation of Legend of the Guardians was the same person that directed 300 and Watchmen; Zach Snyder. The studio went with the safer route by advertising this as "from the studio that brought you Happy Feet". Imagine if they had used a 300-esque trailer for the marketing campaign instead. It would have either become the most popular thing to hit YouTube or one large backfire. Or maybe both. Truth be told, Legend of the Guardians actually has more in common with those two graphic novels than the family-friendly story, minus the excessive sex and violence.

Almost every character in the film is an owl. At least on the outside. They behave as maturely as humans and face some real human issues. It reminds me of the strange but real "puppet therapy" that some dysfunctional families use to address some problems. There is something effecvtive about channeling your feelings through an inanimate object, or in this case a bird, that can make it easier to get a message across. Probably because it's simply unusual.

Our hero is named Soren (voice of Jim Sturgess), a young owl with the intelligence of a teenage human raised in a peaceful family. They spend many nights entertaining themselves with folk tales about the Guardians, a rogue group of warrior owls that act like wise Jedi Knights and vanquish evil wherever it lurks.

Evil hits home one day. Soren has a brother named Kludd (voice of Ryan Kwanten) whom he constantly quarrels with. One such confrontation was so physical that they both fall away from their tree home and crash into unknown territory. (Neither of them have learned to fly yet.) As a result, they are both abducted by a clan that hail from the city of St. Aggie. The clan has already kidnapped dozens of young owls and forced them into slavery or their own military.

Soren finds help and is able to escape captivity and fly to the city of Ga'Hoole where the famed Guardians of his childhood stories live ready and waiting for their next selfless act of heroism. The Guardians prepare themselves for a battle to save the good citizens while Soren faces his own battles; one of which is fighting his brainwashed brother now serving under evil.

What I liked most about the film was how the birds physically behaved in conjunction with their personalities. As I mentioned before, these characters have the intelligence of humans but their natural movement and mannerisms are true to their bird form. Very little is compromised for the sake of dramatics. Speaking of dramatics, there is plenty to see here. Slavery and child soldiers are not issues to be taken lightly and the film knows it.

But not everything is dark and gloomy. Bird lovers will want to reach out and hug these adorable creatures, especially during moments of peril. They also probably make up the main demographic of those that buy tickets to see this film. Comic relief is set up at different places channeled through the more innocent characters.

Much like real birds, most of the birds seen here have a fixed expression on their face carried through the entire story, changing only enough times to keep up with the tone changes. Jim Sturgess was a superb choice for the role of Soren since his voice compliments Soren's worried face so well. You have to be heartless not to wish good things upon this protagonist.

I watched the 3D version of this film, which turned out to be both a great choice and a frustrating one. This particular 3D presentation will not win over any new fans. But those that already appreciate the format will be pleased to see how smooth and often breathtaking the visuals are. The frustrating part involves the choice of POV shots during the flying scenes. Opportunities to showcase the scenery are brushed aside in favor of mug shots. It's admirable to watch a film that has its primary concern being the characters. But come on. These birds are flying! We need to share that sensation of flying and we can't do that by watching the characters journey toward the screen. Diverse angles were badly needed here.

Fortunately, the 3D proves it's worth during the climatic confrontation between the guardians and the slave-holders. I didn't think that an epic battle scene involving birds would be exciting. Good thing Zack Snyder had enough creativity to prove me wrong. Until this point, the film had felt a little too formulaic. The buildup and payoff to the final battle was enough to make it a winner.

Legend of the Guardians will probably surprise most who watch it. The poster makes it look purely like a children's film while the trailer makes it look too serious. Neither perception is really fair. The story tries hard to relate itself to a wide audience and I believe it mostly succeeds. Sometimes seeing really is believing.

Rating: 7

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