FILM REVIEW Legend Of The Guardians: The Owls Of Ga’hoole
Knights of the bird table
2010 * PG * 97 mins * 22 October 2010
Distributor: Warner Brothers
Director: Zack Snyder
Cast: Jim Sturgess, Ryan Kwanten, Joel Edgerton, Geoffrey Rush, Helen Mirren, Hugo Weaving
Folkloric totems of mysticism, ill omen and general spookiness, the owl is a common fantasy motif, usually perched symbolically on the shoulders of wise and noble types like Athena, Merlin or Harry Potter. Legend Of The Guardians, however, gives the humble owl pride of place in a Lord Of The Rings-type extravaganza. Based on the 15-book sequence by Kathryn Lasky, Guardians is a CG-animated fable for kids, set amid the cloudy treetops and lonely peaks of an apparently human-free wilderness.
Teenage barn owls Soren (voiced by Jim Sturgess) and his brother Kludd (Ryan Kwanten) are kidnapped by a tribe of evil owls known as the Pure Ones. Led by a masked overlord named Metal Beak (Joel Edgerton), these standard issue fantasy Nazis set their captives to work building a magic weapon with which to zap their enemies, a squadron of armoured peacekeepers known as the Guardians of Ga’Hoole. While his cynical brother gives in to his dark side, Soren escapes, teams up with several fantasy stereotypes (the plucky female, the comedy sidekick, the big guy) and sets off to alert the Guardians and help save the owl world from slavery…
Legend Of The Guardians is undeniably a visual marvel (especially so in 3D). Every fibre in every pinfeather springs out at you and the owl characters are so vividly realised that you can’t help but want to reach out and tickle their fluffy little bellies. Unfortunately, the movie is one those relentlessly bland epic fantasies in which the plot doesn’t let the hero actually do anything and every contrivance is written off along the lines of “It was foretold…” The story’s only genuinely dramatic thread (Kludd’s betrayal of his brother) is reduced to a sideline, while the “war is hell” sentiments don’t quite wash next to Zack Snyder’s glorious aerial battle scenes. And who else but the 300 director could give us a movie in which a steel-taloned owl kung fu-kicks a sword-wielding vampire bat?
A triumph of digital animation, Legend Of The Guardians should also get kudos for making the concept of chivalric owls actually work on screen. A shame, then that beneath the dazzling exterior it’s nothing more than Eragon with feathers.