LEGEND OF THE GUARDIANS: THE OWLS OF GA'HOOLE 2D + 3D
Young owl Soren (voice of Jim Sturgess) is enthralled by his father's epic stories of the Guardians of Ga'Hoole, a mythic band of winged warriors who had fought a great battle to save all of owlkind from the evil Pure Ones. While Soren dreams of someday joining his heroes, his older brother, Kludd (Ryan Kwanten), scoffs at the notion, and yearns to hunt, fly and steal his father's favor from his younger sibling. But Kludd's jealousy has terrible consequences-causing both owlets to fall from their treetop home and right into the talons of the Pure Ones. Now it is up to Soren to make a daring escape with the help of other brave young owls. Together they soar across the sea and through the mist to find the Great Tree, home of the legendary Guardians-Soren's only hope of defeating the Pure Ones and saving the owl kingdoms.
Review by Louise Keller:
Trust your gizzard, sharpen your battle claws and be transported into the magical and spectacular world of owls. The 3D visuals are breathtaking as are the details imbued in this robust fantasy adventure whose theme reinforces good versus evil. Combining the first three books of the best-selling children's series, screenwriters John Orloff and Emil Stern have built a dramatic, if predictable structure for the filmmakers to create the incredible world of Ga'Hoole. The combination of director Zack Snyder, the gigantic creative skills of Animal Logic and a voice cast that would make any pack of owls hoot in delight are the ingredients in this exquisite world of feathery flying creatures intent on saving their kingdom.
Owls flying through a blustery snow storm and a struggle during a devastating fire are two of the high points of the film. Not surprisingly, it is Lisa Gerrard's unmistakable ethereal voice that soars through the action at these points. It is not surprising, because there is a quality in Gerrard's voice that jolts our emotional responses and somehow allows our souls to listen and feel. Technically they, like the entire film, are extraordinary. The soft feathery down of the owls is visual velvet, the owls' face markings are incredibly detailed and the speckled wing expanses impressive as they soar through skies filled with the pinkest of clouds. I like the imagery of the scene in which a large, theatrical grey owl named Twilight (voiced by Anthony LaPaglia) sings a silly tune standing on a branch in a gum tree, strumming on a lute with his claws. He and a little burrowing owl called Digger (voiced by David Wenham) provide most of the comic moments.
We warm to Soren (voiced by British actor Jim Sturgess), the brave young owl fascinated by his father's tales about the mythical Guardians of Ga'Hoole, and whose sense of right and wrong stands him in good stead. Ryan Kwanten voices Kludd, Soren's misguided, ambitious brother, who is tempted to the dark side by the inaptly named Pure Ones. (Helen Mirren makes a delicious meal of voicing her striking, evil Nyra, whose multi-coloured eyes are as multi-faceted as her evil character.) Geoffrey Rush is also excellent as the heroic Ezylryb ('I'm just a tired old screech'). The story is pretty ordinary and it's easy to be confused by the characters and the voices. Perhaps owls look different to each other? Overall, it's about the cinematic experience (Animal Logic, take a bow), highlighted by composer David Hirschfelder's rousing score (bravo); besides who hasn't fantasized about flying? Here we get a taste of it - as flying novices to experienced warriors who take to the skies, battle ready, filled with gumption and attitude.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Owls ain't owls as Australia's astonishing debut 3D animated film proves, with owlkind as divided into good and evil as is humankind - which of course they represent. The evil Pure Ones, for example, could be stand ins for the worst of the Arians whose notions of purity gave the world the Nazis - and their owl equivalents are equally vicious and militaristic. But the 8 - 14 year olds for whom the film is made are unlikely to make that connection. To them, the film is more likely to be a fantastic adventure in which heroes can grow from humble beginnings.
Australia's Animal Logic can be proud of its achievements in the film's physical production, a world class creative whirlpool of ideas and talent, all in the service of the story. The technical superiority of the digital animation is emphasised by director Zack Snyder's live action sensibilities driving the film, even to the extent of creating the effect of hand held camera work in several key scenes. His signature extreme slo-mo work delivers beautiful imagery of the owls flying through rain, for instance, each speck of water lit to perfection.
The largely Australian voice cast gives the film an easily bonding familiarity for Australian audiences, but in the US, it should help establish the world of Ga'hoole as something out of American children's world. All the voice cast deliver marvellous performances but I admit I am a bit confused as to which owl is who, and it doesn't help that Hugo Weaving (of distinctive voice) plays two characters. Part of the problem, perhaps, is that owls are owls (to contradict myself, but you know what I mean) and in a fast moving battle it's impossible to readily distinguish the good owls from the bad ones. Another part of the problem, perhaps, is that I am not between 8 and 14. And on reflection, Snyder's expressly grown up style may not be the perfect fit for a family film ... as wonderful as it looks and as exciting it can be.
Even though some of the details are jumbled and hard to grasp through the clatter of it all, the basic story line gets through; there are reminders of The Lion King and Star Wars and Lord of the Rings ... perhaps because these are all essential stories about good v evil and the hero's journey in which our hero has to survive many challenges to reach his worthy, selfless goal. There is even a scene in which our hero, Soren (voice of Jim Sturgess) is encouraged by an elder to feel his way through a wild storm by feeling his gizzard - a direct parallel to 'feel the force'.
David Hirschfelder's magnanimous score magnifies the film in powerful style, and Lisa Gerrard's haunting voice (from her Dead Can Dance days) adds a spiritual layer that provides a subtle, mesmerising tone to key moments as we empathise with our owl friends.
There are some glorious close ups of these wonderful creatures and it may be that a whole generation will come to regard owls in the same way as many of us now regard dolphins. But I should also warn parents that sensitive 8 - 10 year olds may find some of the [bloodless but hectic] action a little scary (as the PG consumer advice warns: Mild violence and scary scenes).
The best part of the film for me is the virtual flying in which we take part - especially in 3D - which satisfies one of man's most profound longings: to fly. Better than a simulator pilot game, Legends makes birds of us all, swooping, swerving, soaring, darting and diving as we head towards that magnificent Great Tree that is the home of the Guardians.
Published first in the Sun-Herald
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ZAREH NALBANDIAN INTERVIEW
LEGEND OF THE GUARDIANS: THE OWLS OF GA'HOOLE 2D + 3D (PG)
VOICES: Hugo Weaving, Ryan Kwanten, Jim Sturgess, Helen Mirren, Abbie Cornish, Geoffrey Rush, Sam Neill, David Wenham, Richard Roxburgh, Miriam Margolyes, Jay la'Gaia, Emily Barclay, Adrienne DeFaria
PRODUCER: Zareh Nalbandian
DIRECTOR: Zack Snyder
SCRIPT: John Orloff, Emil Stern (novels by Kathryn Lasky)
EDITOR: David Burrows
MUSIC: David Hirschfelder
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Simon Whiteley
RUNNING TIME: 97 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: Vic & Qld: September 27, 2010; other states 30/9/2010