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Tuesday
Sep282010

LEGEND OF THE GUARDIANS is too epic for its own good (review)

Rating:  (Mediocre)

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole intends to be an epic, like Lord of the Rings for families. On paper, it has enough slow-mo shots, big fights, evil villainny, and travel to be such a story. On film, it falls short. While beautifully animated and intimately detailed, this adventure tries so hard to be epic that it's kind of a bore. And don't even get me started on the science of it all, or lack thereof. 

Owls that can sew?

I suppose in an animated world where owls can talk, they can do a lot of things, but I still have trouble believing that they are as thrifty as Kathryn Lasky has written them in her novel, The Owls of Ga'Hoole. These owls create entire cities, full of planks, fires, torches, and intricate stone statues. The guardians' village is more advanced than the Ewok village in Return of the Jedi. If harnessing fire didn't sound hard enough, you'll wonder how they learned advanced metallurgy and cloth weaving. Ornate helmets adorn the Guardians and carpets dress the floors. An odd soul I may be, but even at 10, I would have wondered how these owls got so crafty. Granted, I did research and found that owls do indeed have an opposable thumb, but their claws seem a bit sharp to thread a needle.

Then there's the magnets. In this world, there are little glowing pieces of metal called 'flecks.' If you combine these flecks, they gain immense magnetic properties that somehow incapacitate other owls by affecting their gizzard. A gizzard, if you are wondering, is a second stomach that stores and compacts undigestible items, like bones, so that owls can puke them back up later. What does all this mean? There is a disturbing lack of sound science in Legend of the Guardians.

Too short to be grand

It is acceptable for a fantasy author to make a few things up, however. After all, we watch films about zombies and vampires all the time. The real problem I have with Guardians is that it sets out to be a truly grand epic, but fails to live up to its own grandstanding. It all starts when Soren (Jim Sturgess) and his brother Kludd (Ryan Kwanten) are kidnapped from their home by larger owls. A group of owls called the Pure Ones is kidnapping and brainwashing young owls. Soren escapes and flies away to find the legendary Guardians of Ga'Hoole so they can save his brother and the other owls.

Aside from the blatant allusions to Hitler and the Holocaust, the setup is serviceable. The problem is that the adventure proceeding it is, well, short and boring. At 90 minutes, the film is too short to include much of Soren's journey, which is remarkably short. Instead The Owls of Ga'Hoole turns into a big good versus evil brawl before we've had time to get to know any of the dozen or so characters that do the brawling. It's introduction after introduction, then slow-motion fight after slow-motion fight. It's all very pretty, filled with lovely computer generated water and fire, but lacks the earned emotional impact of a film like Toy Story 3 or Despicable Me. When we see the toys almost die in Toy Story 3, it hurts because we have a relationship with each of those characters. When owls are in trouble in Guardians, the cinematography and pacing is all there, but the experience is too mechanical; these owls have not earned my love. 

Pretty, but dull

Legend of the Guardians is not a bad film. I appreciate Director Zack Snyder's attempt to push CGI animated movies beyond family comedy and the Owl City montage is fun. His effort is admirable. Unfortunately, this just isn't the film that will do it. If someone would have told me I'd knock a movie for being too epic and serious a few years back, I'd have laughed. I've been a proponent of 'epicness' my whole life. Hell, Lord of the Rings is probably my favorite trilogy of all time. Nevertheless, a great film must live up to the scale of its cinematography and speed of its shutter. Legend of the Guardians is a gorgeous film that many children will enjoy, but I can't recommend it.

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