‘The Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole’ is a movie based on the series of books by Kathryn Lasky. It is based on the first three books in the series, condensing all that happens into the runtime of a standard 100-minute movie. It works with varying degrees of success, but you have to tip your hat to director Zack Snyder.
Yes, that Zack Snyder.
The story is about a family of owls. There are two brothers, and one night while on a dare to do ‘branching’ (how young owls learn to fly, from jumping and gliding from branch to branch) they are snatched from their nests. The brothers are brought far away to a hellish place where the Pure Ones—age old owls, led by Metal Beak—are attempting to build an army of moon-blinked owlets (basically, brainwashing), and also constructing a secret weapon that immobilizes owls.
There is more to the story, but this is the basic construct—and one of the problems with the film is its predictability. There is an ancient legend that one of the brothers loves and believes in (and, surprisingly, the other brother does not) about a group of owls known as The Guardians that act as the sort of justice; they protect and aid whenever needed.
The story is horribly predictable at times. I found myself saying what I thought would happen with complete certainty; and lo and behold, it would happen. While the fantasy elements are nice—very pleasant escapism even for adults, and definitely for children—it is standard fare, fitting right in amongst every other regular fantasy story about fantasy worlds. You will see things coming as clearly as a turn in a road on sunny, bright, clear day; the only reason I don’t use examples is for the sake of spoilers and an unimpeded viewing experience.
What makes the film unique is the visuals. Director Zack Snyder (‘Watchmen’ and ‘300’) stocks the film with photorealistic images of wonder. Sunsets through clouds, owls flying through a rainstorm, constant slow motion highlighting the snow particles bouncing off feathers—it is a masterpiece in terms of visual splendor. And, admittedly, the eye candy is the ultimate reason that people appreciate the film. This is a Brian de Palma film at heart, and oftentimes rightfully so.
The voice cast is top-notch, with not many of the voices ever sticking out. The most recognizable is Geoffrey Rush, but even he blends in well. Other voices include Jim Sturgess, Sam Neill, Hugo Weaving (in a non-antagonist role, amazingly), and Helen Mirren, who blindsided me when I found out she was one of the voices. The performances are top-notch and do more than fulfill the promises of the film.
The film is a solid viewing experience, as long as one accepts that the story is standard-issue fantasy fare. Events that took most of one of the books are pressed into five minute scenes—condensing of events is one of the bigger problems, with seeming-climactic things ending in a blink—and predictability is a hindrance. But the visuals will keep even the most jaded of viewers involved, and the voice cast will always impress, with a local accent (again, Australian-sounding) that is foreign yet understandable.
Last note: while the film holds a PG rating and is marketed primarily for children, the film is dark. The main villain has his beak ripped off (even though he wears a mask and it’s never seen). Owlets are kidnapped and brainwashed into having white eyes and blank minds. There is violence, blood, and at least one character falls into a forest fire and another gets impaled by a torch. So parents be warned, while it is gentle young adult violence, it is still something to be aware of going in.