Saturday, October 30, 2010

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole

Birds of the Same 3D Feather

While I had made it a point not to watch any more life action films that feature talking animals, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole doesn't really count though its superb animation and attention to detail make the owls here look vividly alive and like the real thing. Directed by Zack Snyder and based upon the book series Guardians of Ga'Hoole by Kathryn Lasky, it's no wonder why the film's pacing seemed to roll along at breakneck speed because it condensed a total of the first three volumes into the film narrative.

In some ways the story may seem to draw some parallels with Star Wars Episode 4: A New Hope. We follow a young owl Soren (voiced by Jim Sturgess) who develops his inner potential which is The Force equivalent that he taps upon when in flight, although he's still raw with that ability until he got trained by an old battle-weary and scarred owl Ezylryb (Geoffrey Rush) who turns out to be the legendary Lyze of Kiel. But before that he and Gylfie (Emily Barclay) have to escape from the clutches of the evil "Pure Ones" who are hell bent on conquering the world with some Death Star like contraption, and in the process have to abandon Soren's envious brother Kuldd (Ryan Kwanten) who got seduced by the dark side and decided to throw in his lot with the enemy, forcing a Cain and Abel situation naturally.

Yes this is very much Bird Star Wars in a clear and classic tale of good versus evil, with the adventures of Soren and Gylfie in their quest to find the urban legend of the Guardians (read: Rebel Alliance) and joined by a rag tag of owls (and a snake) who bring different skill sets to the team, including their bickering. A pity though that most of the supporting characters good and bad get relegated to caricatures, failing to exploit the ensemble voice cast assembled such as Hugo Weaving, Helen Mirren, David Wenham, Anthony LaPaglia and Sam Neill.

While the storyline is simple to follow for kids, and for the adults there are enough references here to damaging class and caste systems where owls are segregated into their species by the evil Metalbeak (Joel Edgerton) and his minions where less superior owl stock get to become slaves for slave work, where on the side of the Guardians it's a meritocracy set up where owls get to learn basic but broad based skill sets before they choose what they are strong in for focus in that profession, things like navigation and armoury. The plot in the extremely rushed second half deals with the setup for a big fight which was prophesied and time wasn't wasted in the determination to go into war. After all, sometimes we have to go to war to keep the peace, no?

Zack Snyder has a penchant to design fight sequences in stylized slow motion, from 300 to Watchmen, and now this, although I thought it was quite justified because otherwise we'll see nothing much other than a glorified chicken fight with two fowls clashing head on, using weapons fixed to their thin legs to inflict damage to fellow opponents. That said the attention to detail is tremendous, and being caught in slow motion allows you to take it all in visually since the birds got digitally animated, and shoddy work will definitely show especially in feather and wing designs up close. The 3D flight sequences will also set to wow, and you'll often find yourself ducking when an entire flock come toward the screen in high velocity, or swoop down from behind

I was expecting much less, but got pleasantly surprised by the quality of animation. Being able to draw some parallels with a much known sci-fi film also helped to balance that rushed narrative void of much character development, and if there's a sequel planned, I'll be quite game to continue with the mythos. Oh, and make it for the screening early, especially if you're watching the 3D version, because a Warner Bros Animation looney toons short precedes the feature film, with a typical Road Runner vs Wild E Coyote challenge in 3D glory that fans of Road Runner, like myself, will be celebrating watching our speedster pop out of the screen. Beep beep!

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