blank'/> Cinema Reviews: Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole - Exceptionally beautiful but not a classic

Monday, April 11, 2011

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole - Exceptionally beautiful but not a classic

You can certainly say one thing for director Zack Snyder, he knows how to create beautiful images. There is not one second of this film (Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole (2010)where you don't marvel at the qualities of the light (Especially that glorious earthy, amber dusk light that permeates the film), the clarity of each individual feather bristling on the title characters, the epic panoramas surrounding the owls in flight, the hellish red glare of a hungry Tasmanian devil on a forest floor, the quality of the movement in the animation; it all lovingly kisses your vision.

The only visual trick overused by Snyder is his insistence on speed ramping ("ramping", is a process whereby the capture frame rate of the camera changes over time. For example, if in the course of 10 seconds of capture, the capture frame rate is adjusted from 60 frames per second to 24 frames per second, when played back at the standard film rate of 24 frames per second, a unique time-manipulation effect is achieved"), and it's often disorientating effect on the battle scenes at the end of the film. Personally I would like to see the action Animal Logic's (The Company responsible for Happy Feet) team has clearly spent so much time animating.

Guardians is a story of sibling rivalry, betrayal and faith set against the back drop of an ancient feud between legendary rival owl tribes, the evil Pure Ones and the heroic Guardians. Owl brothers Soren and Klud (Voiced by Jim Sturgess and Ryan Kwanten [Of vampire series 'True Blood' fame] respectively) stray from the nest trying to out fly each other, only to be captured by members of the Pure Ones, a tribe of Owls who 'moon blink' their captives into mindless drones to collect magical metal that affects the gizzards or 'souls' or owls, incapacitating them. Soren and an Elf Owl called Gylfie (Emily Barclay - who played that hideous hyena in the overrated Suburban Mayhem; a far cry from her diminutive, endearing character here) join forces to escape, but Klud ultimately sides with the Pure Ones, under the leadership of Metalbeak (Played by an vocally unrecognizable Joel Edgerton - in the sense that you wont recognize either his voice or what type of accent he's meant to be using - what the heck is it; English, Australian, American?)

Soren seeks out the help of the Guardians, an owl tribe described to him by his Father and whose heroic tales have always inspired him. In the course of doing so he learns that battle is not as glamorous as the stories led him to believe, but that honor and self belief can be.

It's hard to say exactly why this film doesn't quite reach 'Classic' status. I was absolutely rapt for the first three quarters of the film; was involved in the sweet partnership of Soren and Gylfie; but when more characters were into the mix (Annoying unnecessary comic relief in the form of Digger (David Wenham) and Twilight (Anthony Lapaglia), and after the Guardians were located, the film lost it's tension, and the manner in which a fellow Gaurdian betrays the tribe is not satisfactorily played out for the dramatic impact it could have had. Metalbeak is also a pretty passive villain; initiating plans behind the scenes yes, but largely just skulking about in the foreground looking dark and mysterious, emerging only to fight in the battle between the Guardians and the Pure Ones at the end of the film. It must be said of that fight that despite the swords and knives and armory strapped to the owls the conflict is lackluster - not because of a lack of gore; understandable given this is a children's film - but because of uninspired staging and Snyder's obscuring speed ramping.

Again, the Australian landscape and it's fauna look amazing, and it was great to see so many Australian actors voicing the characters; among them Bill Hunter, Hugo Weaving, Geoffrey Rush, Angus Sampson and Abie Cornish - though why they felt it necessary to include English accents and actors (Helen Mirren, Miriam Margolyes) as well is beyond me; international appeal, then why not American accents Ala 'Chicken Run'?

Soren as the title character is a bit of a wet blanket, but his enthusiasm and goodness is endearing. I might be expecting too much from an animated children's film, but I was just so swept away by the first three quarters of the film that to descend into such a tried-and-tested battle scenario just seemed a waste of the good will generated by the start. It is a very unusual, eccentric (Owls in Armour), even occasionally dark children's film, and as such it would have to been nice to see the film makers push that uniqueness even further, into a less conventional story line.

Overall spectacular visuals, great first three quarters but lacking in a satisfying dramatic high point or conclusion.

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