Review – Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole

Originally Posted at Aint It Cool News 09/21/10

My Attempt to Make Sense of The Trailer for Zack Snyder’s Owl Movie:

1)     Jesus Christ, owls are fucking creepy.

2)     They’re armed? Who is arming these owls? Why would you do this?

3)     Is this a joke? It looks like a Zack Snyder movie.

4)     Holy shit, it IS a Zack Snyder movie. Owls with abs. Why not.

5)     And why wouldn’t it be called The Something-Something of Gurfle-Hurf or whatever? That’s catchy as hell.

6)     Sure, I’ll watch it. It’s a 3-D Animated Cockfight! For kids!

My Review of “Slow-Motion 3-D Australian Cockfight With Owls: The Movie” Directed By Zack Snyder.

Dude does not make it easy for himself, does he? “Dawn of the Dead,” “Watchmen,” Frank Miller’s nonexistent storytelling abilities; He has yet to tackle a project that doesn’t have an amazing amount of baggage attached to it. This time, that baggage includes things like “The expectations of millions of kids who buy these books,” and “The pure befuddlement of everyone else.”

That ballsiness, more than anything else, defines Snyder’s career, even more than his brilliant visual sense. He makes movies that simply shouldn’t be. And it’s one thing for kids to imagine a world where owl kids join the boy scouts, grow up and go to war with other owls while wearing pseudo-roman armor. It’s another to take that imagery out of the kids’ head and put it on a couple thousand theater screens in as photorealistic a manner as possible. Other directors aim for suspension of disbelief. Snyder tries to suspend sheer incredulosity.

“The Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole” is the movie where Snyder finally descends, slow-motion and screaming, into total self-parody. Some would argue this happened halfway through “300,” but I disagree.  What with the stylized action and the speed-ramping, “300” established the Snyder style, for better or worse, and he used those tools judiciously, bringing them out only when needed, maximizing their impact. Whatever problems there were with “Watchmen,” he (mostly) exercised similar restraint in his valiant attempt to adapt what many consider the best graphic novel ever written.

With this movie, he’s not so much choosing his tools as he is kicking the whole toolbox into a computer, and then kicking over the computer.  It’s a tone-deaf slog through near-total incoherency, its only hope of success completely dependent on frequent – and frequently desperate – attempts at beautiful iconography.

The choice to make this as photorealistic as possible is a terrible one. Sure, it’s pretty as hell, and the 3D is mostly immersive, succumbing to gimmick only once or twice. But it’s hard to empathize for these creepy-looking things, and though the voice actors are trying to anchor the movie in real emotion, there’s only so much expression an owl can give.  Then there is the rote story, notable only for the incomprehensible way in which its details are relayed to the audience. The first 15 minutes are an impenetrable wall built from out-of-context details and stupid sounding names.

Soren is a wide-eyed dreamer, all too willing to get caught up in the fairy tales his father tells him about the legendary Guardians of Ga’Hoole, a band of owls that fight for justice and freedom against the evil Metalbeak, an owl fascist plotting the domination of owlkind. Soren’s older brother, Kludd, is resentful of Soran’s optimism, and his natural talent for flight. One day, while practicing their skills, they are kidnapped by mysterious owls and taken to what they’re told is an orphanage where they will be taught how to become the best owls they can be.

In actuality, the school is a training ground for Metalbeak’s army, where weaker students are brainwashed into owlish zombies, forced to spend their waking hours picking through a massive owl pellet collection to find metal flecks that, when pieced together by Metalbeak’s elite force of bat-minions, form a weapon that will be used to destroy the Guardians once and for all.

Soren and fellow prisoner Otulissa decide to make a break for it, to warn the Guardians and save their respective owl kingdoms. Kludd betrays his little brother, and thus, the sides are chosen, the outcome inevitable: The Guardians will war with Metalbeak one more time, and the fate of all Owlkind rides on their wings. Will Soren rise to the challenge and realize his potential? Does he have the strength to face his brother, and save not only his family, but seriously WHAT THE FUCK AM I WATCHING.

This is an astoundingly bad movie. That isn’t to say it’s not entertaining. It is, in fact, very beautiful to look at, and fucking hilarious in all the wrong ways. Snyder’s never been known for subtlety, but at one point in the movie, he has Owl City sing a song about owls while owls learn how to be owls during an owl montage. I could not. Stop. Laughing. I was waiting for Xzibit to pop his head out of the bottom of the screen and shout “Yo dawg, I heard you like Owls!” The movie isn’t thoughtless. It has things it wants to say to the kids. Snyder just isn’t paying attention to what he’s saying. Subtext is beyond this man, I think. A shocking charge, I know, but here’s a couple examples:

During one of the scenes of lighthearted levity sprinkled throughout the film with all the grace and precision of a scud missile, a baby owl spends a good 15 seconds of screentime horking up an owl pellet. After the laughs subside, the owl is told by her nursemaid, a matronly pink snake, (obvious choice, really) why she just puked up an owl turd, in a way that sounds, to anyone paying a modicum of attention to subtext, like a mother explaining to her daughter what a menstrual cycle is.

This is weird and unintentionally hilarious as it is, until the snake mentions that she is going to save this pellet as a keepsake, just like she’s done for all the owls she’s cared for. And then the scene ends, leaving us to contemplate a world in which a motherly snake keeps a collection of owl periods in mason jars. And this snake is the emotional heart of the movie. We know this because the character inhabiting the role of oracle, a soothsaying echidna, (of course it’s an echidna, duh) says so to the snake, and the viewing audience.

And then, at about the midway point, Soren re-caps the movie to the Guardians themselves. The response to his tale sounds like script notes that Snyder mistook for actual pages: A haughty, snooty owl calmly tells Soren that his story is beyond unbelievable, that it occupies a realm so ridiculous that nobody could possibly be expected to understand it, much less go along with it. To his credit, Snyder did not name the owl “Movie Critic,” probably because that name doesn’t sound like an owl pellet being coughed up, and therefore doesn’t fit in this universe.

How did Snyder not catch these things? Was he too focused on mining every possibly iconic moment for their last ounce of majesty, unaware he had failed to make anything, yunno, matter?  It is, essentially, a kids film about ethnic cleansing, starring a shitload of Campbellian clichés dressed as armed barn owls, and there is no resonance to any of it.

But will kids like it? Maybe. I’m sure there are kids who liked Planet 51 and Alpha & Omega, too. Kids like a lot of shitty things, but they’re kids, they have a good excuse. Snyder doesn’t. With this film, he has finally stacked the deck against himself far too harshly to come out the other side with a win.

Published in: on 12/31/2010 at 1:33 am  Comments Off on Review – Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole  
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