Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Film: "Legend of the Guardians"-- My Mother Simply Enjoyed the Visuals


I took my 76-year-old mother to see "Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole".  (She had not been to a 3-D film since the 1950's, probably Hitchcock's "Dial M For Murder", with the thin cardboard glasses with the red and green cellophane lenses.)  Worse yet, she had not been to a movie in almost a year.  And she, like her son after her, loves birds, especially owls.

"Legend of the Guardians" proved to be a fine choice, and she laughed in amazement and commented over and over that she could practically reach out and touch the objects on the screen.  As I expected, she reacted in childlike delight at the renderings of the cute and more comical owl characters, who in the film are thrust early into a medieval battleground of heroic owls, evil owls, and owls in peril.  I don't think she had any idea what the story was about, or why it became scary, why some of the owls got hurt in battle scenes or even died, or even what the owls were saying in their heavy British/Australian accents. 

The film is commendable for the care and artistry of its visuals. While it was not exactly what I had expected nor hoped, it was a solid animated adventure, with less sentiment and slapstick than an earlier favorite of mine, "How To Train Your Dragon".  "Legend of the Guardians" offers gorgeous backgrounds and lighting effects, superior detail work, and a return to a traditional film grammar (whose absence in current 3-D films has been lamented by critics like Roger Ebert).  For instance, it was refreshing to see the filmmakers employ such devices as changing depths of field, rack-focus, and, during the complex battle scenes, slow motion. 

There were times while I watched "Legend of the Guardians" that I felt like I was experiencing the film medium for the first time.  It's a similar feeling one has when seeing a movie with a young child...or, sometimes, an aging mother.

Two young owls are fascinated by their parents' stories of the Legendary Guardians, heroic protectors, who they believe in but have never seen.  The Guardians do battle with an evil tribe of owls called the Pure Ones (an obvious Nazi parallel).  The pure ones capture, hypnotize and enslave young owls to be "pickers" in a mine of pellets containing precious metals, or fighters in an army of world domination.  Our young owls eventually wind up on both sides of this equation in an owlish civil war.

I wished that the movie had not moved in a militaristic, Lord of the Rings type plot-line, and that the tone was not so relentlessly dark and depressing at first.  I also am growing weary of 3-D films that occupy more than half of their running time to flying effects.  By overusing this device, it dilutes the splendor of the visuals, making them appear common, and passe.

But to this film's great credit, there are substantial stretches of great beauty.  I am thinking especially of a treacherous scene while flying in a heavy rain, with the raindrops dancing all over the theater; or a sequence in which a lullaby is being sung by a large, outspoken and lovable owl-comrade playing a lute (a delightful reminder of Ignatius Reilly in "Confederacy of Dunces"!!).  The gentle tune, the calmness of the scene, and the radiant beauty of the backgrounds made me smile with pleasure. 

Even the writing, for those who appreciate this genre, is excellent, and the storyboarding elaborate. The film is nicely edited and provides a solid grounding in location...the viewer is always aware of where things are in relation to everything else.

The voice-work is a hoot...excuse the pun... The actors all seem to be having a wonderful time going over-the-top with their characters...among them Helen Mirren, Geoffrey Rush, Sam Neil, Anthony laPaglia, Myriam Margoyles, and the protagonist, Soren, voiced to perfection by Jim Sturgess ("Across the Universe").  Great work by all.

Finally, I wanted there to be more about these creatures in their natural state as owls, instead of characters that could be interchangeable with any flying warrior...or dragon...or whatever.

But the details and expressiveness in the faces and the eyes of the owls, as well as two comical characters, a snake and a nervous grouse, were so winning that it finally was enough to sit back and just enjoy the visuals...and be glad that this elaborate and beautiful work provided such simple pleasures for me and my mom.


  1. I really liked it. I didn't get into it emotionally (too LOTR-y, as you say), but I dug the visuals and Geoffrey Rush's unhinged voicework. Zack Snyder's a pretty solid director, in my book.

  2. Nice review Tom, almost making me want to see it. But be honest is it worth the 3D premium ticket price?

  3. Walter, I liked it on the whole too, even though, as you say, I wanted it to engage me more emotionally.

    Ben... Honestly, it would work in "flat" projection, although the endless flight scenes would become even more tedious without the effect.

    Speaking of Geoffrey Rush, are you both anticipating "The King's Speech" as much as I am?