This film just doesn't fly
By Dan Kois
Friday, September 24, 2010
"Through our gizzards, the voices of the ages whisper to us, and tell us what's right," intones a dignified owl early in "Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole," in the sepulchral inflections of Hugo Weaving. How you respond to this bit of feathery hokum will determine how you'll feel about "Legend of the Guardians," which combines very old-fashioned storytelling with an of-the-moment 3-D ticket price. Does its majesty send a shiver up your spine? Or does the very idea of an animated owl delivering this line induce -- pardon me -- hoots of laughter?
Directed by Zack Snyder, the animated "Legend of the Guardians" tells a familiar story of two owlet brothers whose destinies come into conflict. Owlnapped by a clan of evil owls called the Pure Ones, the brothers are pulled into a plot to enslave all of owlkind. Kludd (voiced by Ryan Kwanten) eagerly signs on as a soldier in the Pure Ones' army, while Soren (Jim Sturgess) escapes to seek out the Guardians of Ga'Hoole, a legendary flock of warrior owls who protect owlkind from owl evil.
In summary: talking owls. And the owls do look quite pretty, downy feathers, wide eyes and all. (Don't look too closely at their beaks while they talk, though, or you may be consumed with curiosity about how an animal with no lips can speak.) There's a lot more hoo-hah about owl eugenics and owl pellets and owl navigation and "trusting your gizzard." The first three books of Kathryn Lasky's series have been crammed into this film's screenplay, which might explain why major plot elements are glossed over, such as the mysterious "flecks" of some unknown metal whose very existence imperils all owldom. In the film's climactic battle sequence, the big bad owl declares, "The Guardians are helpless against the power of the flecks." As villainous catchphrases go, it's no "Kneel before Zod."
The bad owl's name is Metal Beak. He has a metal beak, you see. His actual beak was ripped off in battle by one of the Guardians years ago. (But how can he talk? Shouldn't he at least make clanking sounds when he speaks, with his metal beak? Reader, I don't know.) Metal Beak is voiced with great relish by Australian actor Joel Edgerton, so good earlier this year in "The Square"; in fact, the supporting cast is a who's who of excellent Aussie acting talent, all of them having a merry old time pretending to be owls. In addition to Weaving, there's Geoffrey Rush as a storytelling owl, Anthony LaPaglia as a singing owl, Sam Neill as a warrior owl and Abbie Cornish as a love-interest-whose-role-seems-to-have-been-drastically-cut-for-space owl. Helen Mirren, though not Australian, plays Metal Beak's consort, who is an owl.
Children with a particular affection for epic tales, no matter how derivative or cacophonous, will probably enjoy "Legend of the Guardians." The grown-ups who accompany them, though, unable to rotate their heads 180 degrees, will yawn through John Orloff and Emil Stern's dull dialogue and occasionally find their interest sparked by the film's lovely 3-D vistas.
And the action? It's especially hard to determine who's fighting whom in "Legends," because, well, because they are a bunch of owls. Snyder doesn't help, intercutting moments of balletic slow-motion with messy, incoherent action choreography. It's a technique filmgoers will recognize from Snyder's previous movies, "Watchmen" and "300" -- the only difference being that, thanks to "Ga'Hoole's" PG rating, the bone-crunching battles result in artful sprays of feathers, not blood.
Contains scenes of scary owl action.