Though I sometimes don't act like it, I honestly do admire Zack Synder as a film-maker. His films are always visually extravagant affairs, while his ambition to make stories with a real epic scale to them must always be commended.
However, he does have a history of making a certain type of film, be it his Dawn of the Dead remake or highly successful adaptations of 300 and Watchmen. All the films are essentially littered in brutal yet stylised violence as well as oozing tonnes of sex appeal. So whenever it was announced Synder was attempting a children's fantasy film about owls, many eyebrows - including my own - were raised. The results however were really quite remarkable.
The story - loosely based on the series of books by Kathryn Laskey - tells the coming-of-age journey of a young owl named Soren (Jim Sturgess) as he's captured by a malevolent renegade movement known as the 'Pure Ones', eventually unravelling an adventure which leads him to the legendary Owls of Ga'Hoole. I must admit I've never read the books the film was based on, so I can't comment on the accuracy of its adaptation. However upon viewing the movie I certainly intend to sit down with them, on a cold winter's night, sometime in the near future.
One of the aspects that instantly strikes me with Legend of the Guardians is how amazingly dark the story is. Strangely it was often reminiscent of watching Don Bluth's masterpiece The Secret of Nimh for the first time when I was a child, for its unsettling suspense and horror. I always feel the best children's films are the entries which aren't afraid to break boundaries and scare its core audience a little. Such films as the Walt Disney classics, Snow White and Pinocchio, Jim Henson's Labyrinth and Dark Crystal films or even more recently, the wonderful Henry Selick production of Neil Gaiman's Coraline.
Overall the voice acting was tremendous, Jim Sturgess' sincere and naive qualities worked well with the film's leading protagonist. Geoffrey Rush channelled his best moments from Pirates of the Caribbean as Soren's slightly eccentric, battle-worn mentor, while Helen Mirren was rather sinister as the wife of the chief villain, Metalbeak. Joel Edgerton's portrayal of the main antagonist was the personal highlight of the film for myself, adding real weight to the dark and deadly imagery associated with his character.
The animation was simply breathtaking. I found myself completely engrossed in the world Synder and his team had created on screen. The beautifully realised fantastical realms would not look out of place in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings films. Carrying on from their impressive feats with 2006's Happy Feet, animation studio, Animal Logic take the photorealism of the owls' movements and facial expressions to spectacular heights, dare I say, even giving the people at Pixar a run for their money.
Despite the dark emotional story, the film wasn't entirely perfect. Though I did like there being a lot of focus on the villains of the tale, this came at the expense of slightly whimsical portrayals of the so-called Guardians themselves, so much so I didn't even have the chance to catch their names until doing this review. There was also a few gaping holes in the plot, like practically zero drama and tension placed on the parents of the main character and his siblings upon their disappearance. It also begs the question, if the film featured humans in the roles instead of the novel use of owls, would it still have the same kind of emotional impact as a feature?
However, one does have to stress this is, primarily a children's film, told from a child's perspective and in this respect, Snyder has performed his duties brilliantly. And encase you forget Zack Snyder is the director of this outlandish feature, the film is littered with his own personal trademark quirks, such as - yet again - his insistence on slowing all the action down for much fuller effect. There was also a few cheeky nods in designs and camera shots to, arguably, his most famous film to date, 300.
For once I wasn't actually being a stubborn old cynic, going out of my way to not see the film in 3D, but surprisingly the film wasn't actually being shown in my cinema in 3D. This did little to hamper my enjoyment when watching the movie however, and being objective you can see where the format might have indeed enhanced the feature for a more rounded experience.
Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole is an old fashioned story of good versus evil, with a deadly folk tale of sibling rivalry buried, underneath the grand backdrop, which could undoubtedly be explored in potential sequels to come. I doubt this will go down as the film Zack Snyder will be remembered for, but through making this with such subtle storytelling craft, spectacular animation and ultimately remembering who is core audience is, Synder has suddenly went up in my estimations as a film-maker, now capable of much more than the comic book adaptations he is now infamous for creating. Without a doubt, one of the most enjoyable family films I've seen in the cinema all year.
See This If You Liked...
The Secret of Nimh, Happy Feet, Lord of the Rings, Dark Crystal.
Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole is in cinemas everywhere now