Legend of the Guardians: Five Notes on the Owls of Ga’Hoole

1. This is what 3D is supposed to feel like. Zack Snyders trademark style, which basically lets the camera rule the space-time continuum it inhabits, lends itself perfectly to the new way of telling stories. While Snyder hardly makes use of z-axis space to convey information he couldn’t bring across in 2D, his great advantage in Legend of the Guardians is that he actually has three dimensions to move in. Almost all of the film is spent either in flight or in trees (which also means movement in three dimensions) and this is where 3D really shines. Add to that Snyders famous slo-mo-shots and some sweeping vistas and your eyes can’t stop ogling the beauty you are presented with on screen. Watching Legend of the Guardians really makes you wish, 300 and Watchmen had been in 3D. 300, especially, a film without a plot to speak of that lives purely by its visuals, could have been enhanced no end by stereoscopy. If he carries on like this with the movies he has lined up (Sucker Punch and Superman), Snyder might become one of the most prolific 3D directors around.

2. Snyders treatment of Kathryn Lasky’s novels confirms my earlier thesis that we have a lot to look forward to, if more live action directors with a clear thematic profile take to animation. Legend of the Guardians overtly reflects Snyders preoccupation with the fascist imagery and ideology of grandeur and fights of the weak against the self-styled strong. It is probably owed to the fact that Legends is aimed at kids that the lines of good and evil are drawn in an extremely simplistic way here.

3. Kudos to Animal Logic for their pitch-perfect creature and effects animation. They got to practice beaks and feathers in Happy Feet and really make the most of it in Legends. Owls, with their round faces and crooked beaks, probably topped the list of animals least likely to be anthropomorphised as heroes until this point, but the animators really did a superb job in making them believable, likeable and distinguishable. Much of this can be attributed to the realistic fluffiness of the feathers, which really serve their purpose to give every owl its individual character.

4. I have not read Kathryn Lasky’s book that the film is based on, but it wasn’t difficult to glimpse the detailed and imaginative world that Lasky has probably created in her series of novels through the bric-a-brac script that strives to cram every bit of Ga’Hoole mythology into 100 minutes of film while still leaving enough time for action sequences. The result is a desaster: The film jumps from one scene to another with hardly any transition, introduces new characters and plot twists by the minute and leaves no time at all for contemplation in much the same way that The Golden Compass or Inkheart did two or three years earlier. When will Hollywood finally stop turning fantasy novels that live by their worldbuilding into movies that pale in comparison? Hasn’t film history proven over and over again that – when it comes to fantasy genre films – short stories, novellas and graphic novels make much better source material? TV minseries are a much better medium to capture the intricacies of novels as this one, even if it means sacrificing some visual kablooie.

5. Even Rocky had a montage. But the training/getting to know their new home montage of Legends is an incredibly weak piece of filmmaking the film could have totally done without. It adds almost nothing to the exposition monologue which one of the characters, who is probably important in the novel but extremely flat here, just gave a few minutes earlier. The montage is also accompanied by a pop song which breaks with the whole atmosphere of the movie, but had to be included because it makes tie-in money and because it fits perfectly with this artist called Owl city. Get it? Because they are in a city of owls. Mercy! Please!

Addendum: Zack Snyder talks quite detailed about his 3D-ideas here and there is an extensive series of interviews with the key creatives of the film here.

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