Below is the unedited version of the film review published in Dawn Newspaper’s iMAGES on Sunday on the 17th of October 2010. Links to Dawn.com/published edit can be found at the end of the post.
Chronicles of Sharp, Pointy Talons and Designer-Masked Owls
By Mohammad Kamran Jawaid
Something is uncannily misplaced in “Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole”, the stunning, almost photo-realistically animated CGI/3-D movie featuring distant relatives of screen’s leading Snowy owl “Hedwig”, from “Harry Potter”. Like the variety of owls in Hogwarts “owlery”, the film solemnly adapting the first three novels of “Guardians of Ga’Hoole” by Kather Laskey, features an assortment of owls. There are Barn owls (an evil one is voiced by Helen Mirren), Elf’s, Whiskered Screech’s, Great Grey’s and the ever popular and majestic looking Snowy’s.
So, it’s primarily about unique-looking owls. Owls with big bulging emotional eyes, stretched wings, sharp talon that sport finely-crafted designer metal-masks.
With no humans, just one snake, one mean-looking Tasmanian devil and one all-knowing, mystic Echinda, voiced by Barry Otto, who, in the film’s best comedic moment, was “foretold” everything, the owl’s have a big task ahead: to pull off a semi-epic kiddie movie with minimal bloodshed and off-screen deaths, while sticking to the confines of a “PG” rating. These owls are on a mission.
It all starts with a tale with the legendary guardian owls of Ga’Hoole – a mythic alliance of protectors of all owl-dom – and the fleeceable youngster Soren (Jim Sturgess), who’s still learning to fly, is engulfed by the folklores. His older, and a tad jealous, brother, Kludd (Ryan Kwanten), doesn’t believe in legends. Soon, with a patchy start, they are kidnapped by big malicious owls to St. Aegolius Academy for Orphaned Owls – a fancy, misleading name for a concentration camp that’s setting up a private army of owls (and vampire bats) to take over all owl-kingdoms. Their leaders are the megalomaniac Metalbeak (Joe Edgerton) and his ruthless, mission-minded mate Nyra (Ms. Mirren).
So ruthless and dedicated are they that they personally train select recruits and mesmerize unwilling prisoners into stocking “flecks” – small blue energy-streaking pebbles that distinctively takes out owls.
Soren escapes with Gylfie (Emily Barclay) and tracks down the guardians against fantastically strong weather and convinces them to charge head-on into battles that will feature director Zack Snyder’s trademark visual alacrity.
“Legend” is an “experience”. The battles and aerial photography, embellished by Mr. Snyder’s picture-perfect slow-motions (he’s one of the few who pulls them off with uncluttered stylized frenzy) and grand colored hues, are enough to peg one down for the 90 minute running time.
But the problem persists. Who is the film targeting? It is not something I would recommend to pre or early teens. Nor is it completely for adults. There are lift-off problems and post the sluggish first fifteen minutes, the screenplay turns “almost-epic”, as if it’s press-ganged to adding the crucialities of the source material(s) and the insistence of adding convincingly semi-baked characters.
Mr. Snyder – who started by besting Jesus Christ at the box-office with “Dawn of the Dead”, and whose recent films “300”, “Watchmen” all opened No.1 (“Legend” opened to No. 2) – is dogged by the same catch-22 predicament as “Watchmen”: When adapting a material, how much is too much and how little is too little.
The screenplay is in need of a slightly upbeat, faster, more human update that doesn’t sideline the seriousness of Mr. Snyder’s very strong visual presence. Like I said before, “Legends” is an “experience”. It’s not perfect, and now that I’ve seen it, I wouldn’t complete cinema without it.
Released by Warner Bros. The screenplay is by John Orloff and Emil Stern, based on the novels “Guardians of Ga’Hoole” by Kathryn Lasky. The editing is by David Burrows with music by David Hirschfelder. It is produced by Zareh Nalbandian and directed by Zack Snyder.
Featuring the voices of: Jim Sturgess, Emily Barclay, Helen Mirren, Sam Neill, Geoffrey Rush, Hugo Weaving, Joel Edgerton, Anthony LaPaglia, Adrienne deFaria, Richard Roxberg, Deborra-Lee Furness, Ryan Kwanten, Miriam Margolyes, Abbie Cornish and David Wenham.
“Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole” is rated PG and features screeching owls in harrowing air-battles, fantastic slow-motion and a big palette of vibrant colors. Even with the artistic gloss, it’s still missing something.
By Farheen Jawaid
“Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole”, Zack Snyder’s (“300” and “Watchmen”) 3D, CGI, animated feature is a fantasy adventure about soaring noble owls fighting evil with shiny helmets and razor sharp iron (and in some cases, gold) claws. And as this is aimed from kiddies, amazingly not a drop of blood is in sight in the action sequences, but I won’t be the one complaining about it.
Mr. Snyder has proven again that he has total control over the visual medium in “Legend”, even if the story might tag behind a little. Its breathtaking aerial flights and fights not only take your mind away from the drab script and rushing story, but it’s surprising how forgiving you get in midst of experiencing something that is truly stunning and enjoyable.
The rushing of the story and the drop-ins of characters are understandable as “Legend” is a merged result of the first three books (from the total of fifteen) by Kathryn Lasky about the land of Ga’Hoole. Whatever the short comings the visual grandeur of “Legend” takes the mind off it all and spellbinds in the tighter and more developed second half, where a lot of stereotypical – but life of any fantasy movie – stronger, larger than life characters, make their entry on the right cue.
“Legend” does things clearly and with sincerity, and shows decorum when the action does get intense. What makes it enjoyable are the excellent fight sequences in the finale of the movie, the beautiful cinematography and the sheer pleasure of flight.
The published versions on Dawn.com are: