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Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole(2010)
Soren, is a young owl 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 owl kind from the evil Pure Ones. While Soren dreams of someday joining his heroes, his older brother, Kludd, 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 hey seek the Great Tree, home of the legendary Guardians of Ga'Hoole--Soren's only hope of defeating the Pure Ones and saving the kingdoms
For more about Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole and the Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole Blu-ray release, see Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on December 9, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Jim Sturgess, Hugo Weaving, Emily Barclay, David Wenham, Essie Davis, Abbie Cornish
Director: Zack Snyder
» See full cast & crew
Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole Blu-ray Review
Zack Snyder's animated fantasy epic is a spectacle in every sense of the word...
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, December 9, 2010
Surprised to see director Zack Snyder's name attached to an animated family film? Initially, I was too. But fifteen minutes into the awkwardly titled Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole, it dawned on me that Snyder has been dabbling in animation all along. While Dawn of the Dead is by far his most conventional film, it doesn't take a trained eye to spot touches of Wicked City, Requiem from the Darkness and Blood: The Last Vampire. 300? Thick arterial sprays, untethered cameras, splashes of slow motion artistry, computer generated beasties and surreal vistas... if it weren't for Gerard Butler and his flesh-and-blood cohorts, there wouldn't be any doubt. Watchmen? Like Sin City, it's as much an animated comicbook as it is a live-action adaptation. And Sucker Punch? It may still be three months away from release, but its theatrical trailer says it all. Make no mistake, there aren't many filmmakers more perfectly suited for a dark adventure like The Owls of Ga'Hoole than Snyder, and his presence and passion lends the film a serrated edge and visual resonance it might not otherwise have. It's just a shame the story is so convoluted and unwieldy.
Snyder and screenwriters John Orloff and Emil Stern cover a lot of ground in ninety short minutes. Too much ground. We learn about the mystical land of Ga'Hoole, the mighty owls who rule its kingdoms, a decades-old war between the noble Guardians and the self-proclaimed Pure Ones, the rise of a spiteful adversary called Metalbeak (Joel Edgerton) and his icy mate Nyra (Helen Mirren), and their sinister plot to claim the reins of power from their peaceful brethren. And that's merely the backstory. We meet Soren (Jim Sturgess), a young dreamer still learning to fly and hunt, and Kludd (True Blood's Ryan Kwanten), his jealous older brother; we see the seeds of conflict sprouting between them, and bear witness as both are kidnapped by Metalbeak's minions; we discover the Pure Ones are taking owlets from every corner of Ga'Hoole, enslaving them with the power of the moon, and forcing them to mine for mysterious, magical stones; we watch as Soren and newfound friend Gylfie (Emily Barclay) escape the Pure Ones with the help of a kindly loyalist (Hugo Weaving), as Kludd is manipulated by Metalbeak and Nyra, and as the pair are slowly separated by far more than distance; we follow Soren as he forms a band of like-minded owls (Anthony LaPaglia and David Wenham, among them) and sets out to find the Guardians of legend; and we celebrate when he does just that. Sorry, let me catch my breath.
From there, Snyder, Orloff and Stern set the stage for a second owl war; one that hinges on sacrifice, betrayal and, of course, Metalbeak's desire to settle an old score. In the midst of the ensuing call to arms, Soren and his friends train to be guardians, their teacher Ezylryb (Geoffrey Rush) details and dissects the rituals and practices of the Guardians' ancient order, contrasting philosophies are put to the test, old foes and new allies sharpen their weapons for battle... sigh. Snyder and his screenwriters introduce so many plot threads, so many potential loose ends, so many opposing motives, that they make it next to impossible for themselves to tie everything up in a succinct, satisfying manner. More distressingly, The Owls of Ga'Hoole wallows in this kind of feather-ruffling exposition and mechanical intrigue for the better part of an hour. Emotional depth is short-changed again and again, events sometimes occur for no other reason than to propel our heroes from one locale to the next, character development lurches and stalls, failures and triumphs come too quickly, and the last few minutes are terribly anticlimactic. It's overwhelming to say the least, and ironically, underwhelming on the whole.
As it stands, Legend of the Guardians is burdened by so many elaborate storylines, unnecessary subplots and extraneous characters that it's difficult to latch onto anything in particular. All well and good when it comes to the first few novels of author Kathryn Lasky's five-year, fifteen-volume book series. But when crammed into the confines of a single ninety-minute film? It's more cumbersome than compelling. Had the filmmakers had another hour at their disposal, it might have all fallen into place. But The Owls of Ga'Hoole feels more like an hour-and-a-half cut of The Fellowship of the Ring than a fully realized, self-sustaining first chapter in a potentially sprawling franchise. It doesn't help that it's difficult to distinguish one character from the next (the first time through, anyway). Each owl has been meticulously designed to stand out from the crowd, sure. But when tasked with digesting such a complex narrative and dense mythos in such a short period of time, it's all too easy to confuse one barn owl for another. (My six-year-old son didn't seem to have a problem. Then again, he ignored the finer points of the story to devote his entire attention to the characters and whatever immediate danger they were facing at the time.)
All that being said, The Owls of Ga'Hoole is a breathtaking tour de force worth watching at least once. The story and characters may drown in narrative quicksand, but the sights and sounds of Ga'Hoole? Dear readers, I can't even begin to convey the indescribable sights and wondrous sounds that await anyone who indulges in Snyder's jaw-dropping spectacle. It isn't often that a film is so gorgeous and arresting that I shrug off even the most obvious flaws to simply enjoy it for the stunning work of art it is. Snyder's sensibilities ensure grandeur and scale is apparent in every shot and scene, and his eye for graceful action beats and soaring flights of dark fancy is one of the film's greatest assets. Every movement, gesture and expression is wonderfully owl-like and startlingly human; deadly blades and ornate armor inspires awe rather than amusement; Ga'Hoole's fantasy dreamscapes are dazzling, its seas unending, and its thunder storms frightening; battles are brilliantly choreographed and masterfully framed, and quiet moments are never dull; sun and shadow is used to haunting effect, and wind and rain come to life in their own right.
And the voice performances? Snyder's impressive ensemble is excellent all around -- I haven't even had a chance to mention Sam Neill, David Wenham, Anthony LaPaglia, Richard Roxburgh, Miriam Margolyes, Deborra-Lee Furness, Bill Hunter, Adrienne DeFaria, Barry Otto and Essie Davis in the course of this review -- with nary a weak actor or misguided delivery to be found. Each villain's voice is weighty and convincing, each young hero's excitable chirps hopeful and brimming with heart, and each veteran warrior's declarations blessed with gravitas and conviction. With each measured coo and snarl, the actors make the owls and kingdoms of Ga'Hoole charming and magnetic; more so than Orloff and Stern's copious dialogue and tiresome plotting could ever achieve. When Legend's mythos would leave me cold, its lush visuals and endearing performances would warm my weary bones. Whenever I felt detached from the story, its artistry and characters always drew me back in. When I was lost in the forests of Ga'Hoole, its captivating animation and engrossing soundscape would guide me to places beyond my imagination. I'm sure some will write off the entire experience the moment the script's shortcomings become clear, but those who hold fast will be rewarded.
Just one word of warning: The Owls of Ga'Hoole will scare most young children, and even leave older kids covering their eyes on more than one occasion. It may carry a PG-rating, but Soren and his friends stumble into some truly unsettling terrain, both physical and thematic. Frankly, I'm quite shocked it didn't earn a solid PG-13; it's darker, more intense, and far more violent than Timur Bekmambetov's 9, and stands as one of the few films that sent my son out of the room screaming. (Needless to say, we took a break after that unexpected incident.) Legend of the Guardians may be a family film, but it isn't family-friendly in the traditional sense. I would suggest screening this one before tossing it in for your entire brood. Consider yourself duly informed.
Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole Blu-ray, Video Quality
Let me cut right to the chase. Ga'Hoole's lavish 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode comes as close to perfection as an animated presentation can, and will delight and dazzle videophiles of all ages. Feathers have long been one of nature's most delicate creations, and each one that graces the screen is incredibly crisp and lifelike. Every barb, shaft and frayed edge is present and accounted for, the overlapping patterns that emerge are worthy of close examination, and neither wind nor rain undermines their beauty. But Legend of the Guardians is teeming with jaw-dropping detail and immaculate fine textures. The sun-struck flecks of dust that float through a shaft of light, the imperfections in a warrior's weathered armor, the white-hot sparks that leap from clashing blades, the smallest falling leaf and the tiniest droplet of rain, all rendered with seemingly effortless ease. The film's unobtrusive grain has been preserved as well, and there isn't a hint of artifacting, macroblocking, or unsightly ringing to be found. Likewise, colors are spellbinding, primaries flourish, contrast is impeccable, and black levels are rich and inky. There are a few fleeting instances of negligible banding and aliasing, but the only notable bit of banding occurs as sunlight spreads across a starry night sky in the film's opening shot, and the aliasing that appears is so tough to spot that I had to actively hunt for it. Neither detracts from the presentation in any way, and only those muttering "banding, banding, banding" and "aliasing, aliasing, aliasing" in a mad trance will catch sight of what little does appear. Again, Warner's encode comes as close to perfection as an animated presentation can, and it takes a cold heart and an eagle eye to feel the least bit disappointed by a single frame.
Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole Blu-ray, Audio Quality
From the moment a screeching owl hurtles into view and glides through the Warner Brothers logo, Ga'Hoole's bold, energetic DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track demonstrates its power and prowess. Snyder's owl kingdom is as immersive as it is magnificent, and every rustling forest, raging thunderstorm, clashing army, roaring fire and joyous celebration fills the soundfield with nuance and conviction. Rear speaker activity is lively, absorbing and intense; pans are as graceful as the wind that ruffles our heroes' feathers; directionality is precise and involving; LFE output is remarkably robust and thoroughly penetrating; and dynamics are strong and satisfying. Listen closely as Soren and Kludd struggle to fend off a forest-floor beast, as a band of fledgling warriors are consumed by a blinding blizzard, as a particularly gifted young owl instinctively navigates a violent storm with his teacher, as the Guardians stage an assault on Metalbeak's lair, or as the newest Guardian braves a forest fire to save his heroes. Through it all, voices are both crystal clear and perfectly prioritized, regardless of how chaotic the soundscape becomes. After reviewing hundreds of lossless audio tracks over the years, I'm not as easily impressed as I once was, but the Ga'Hoole mix entranced and enthralled me again and again.
Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Legend's family-friendly supplemental package will thrill children, but older filmfans and animation enthusiasts will come away disappointed. Very little time is devoted to Snyder, the film's aesthetics or, really, any aspect of the production, and the bulk of the video content focuses on real owls more than their talkative Ga'Hoole counterparts.
Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole may not be as engrossing an epic as Snyder envisioned, but it is a stunning piece of inspired animation as beautiful as it is flawed. Thankfully, Warner's Blu-ray release soars. While its supplemental package is aimed squarely at the kiddies, its video transfer is nothing short of breathtaking and its DTS-HD Master Audio track is simply extraordinary. At the very least, Legend of the Guardians is worth renting. Imperfect as the film is, you may just decide to add The Owls of Ga'Hoole to your permanent collection. I did.
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Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Legend of the Guardians Announced on 2D and 3D Blu-ray - November 4, 2010
Warner Home Video has announced the Zach Snyder-directed family adventure movie Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole for Blu-ray release on December 17, in 2D and 3D Blu-ray editions. Both releases will include a DVD and Digital Copy of the movie, and ...
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