Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'hoole
Movie: Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'hoole
The previews of this didn't make me want to watch it. It looked feeble and reviews were negative. But I really wanted to like it. It's about owls, which are cool; it's based on a book series, which is good; and it's directed by Zack Snyder (who did 300 and Watchmen) so the visuals and action would be good. Unfortunately the film makes so many elementary mistakes it ruins itself before it gets a chance.
The most critical mistake is one of confusion. The filmmakers were adapting dense books of a complex owl society so there's a lot of information the audience needs to know about this unfamiliar world. They should have bent over backwards to make sure that we understood what was going on, who was who, and how this world worked. Instead, they seem to have gone out of their way to make things more difficult and challenging. For instance, all the owls of the same species look alike. Sure, their are minor differences, but they are too subtle, especially for audiences seeing the film for the first time. (After 90 minutes, I still had trouble identifying the main character!) Even worse, the choice to use all Australia actors for the voices was a fatal one, because they all sound alike (not true for Australians, I'm sure, but the rest of the world just hears the Australian accents and can't hear anything else). So now we've got characters that look and sound alike, and they're talking about owl-things we know nothing about and referring to silly-named places like Ga'hoole, and they're not introducing any of this to us gradually but all at once, throwing us right into the deep end of the pool and expecting us to swim.
Another critical mistake is one of size. Size is all about proportion: we need to see owls next to something else to get a feel for the owl's size, but here the owls live in nature, so all we have for comparison are trees and other owls. I didn't even realize the main character was a child-owl until a good way through the film, and throughout I kept revising my estimation of his age: a baby, a child, a teenager, a young adult? I really have no idea! In one sequence he learns to fly, but I would think owls learn to fly at a pretty young age, so that would make much too young to do some of the other things he does. He's referred to as young by older owls but he's obviously older than the chicks they show, so I guess maybe he's the equivalent of a tweenager, but I don't know. That confused me, making the story more difficult to follow because I couldn't tell if the kid was doing something impressive or normal.
The bottom line is that the story ends up being a convoluted mess. I found myself distanced and put off. I didn't care much about any of the characters (okay, the comic relief owl was amusing) which meant I didn't care about the story. The story itself was both too bizarre (weird magical aspects that didn't seem to find the rest of the world) and too slight (young hero owl stops bad owls). I wanted more depth, more character. Instead the film spends much of its time attempting to present an interesting owl world, but it does it in such a convoluted manner that we just end up bewildered.
The film is beautiful, and some of the fighting action in the battle scenes is impressive. But I never once felt the least bit worried about any of the main characters, nor did I find anything about the film compelling. I feel sad because obviously tremendous effort went into this, but it was all in the wrong direction. The most interesting part for me were the closing credits, which had fantastic silhouette-style sketch animation. That was actually innovative and cool. All that said, I wouldn't necessarily advise against seeing this. It's probably worth it just for the visuals (though I wasn't at all impressed by the 3D -- it's decent, but not worth an extra penny). However, it's heartbreaking that so much potential was wasted as this could have been a classic.