LEGEND OF THE GUARDIANS, THE OWLS OF GA'HOOLE. Vocied by Ryan Kwanten, Emilie de Ravin, Rachael Taylor, Hugo Weaving, Helen Mirren, Jim Sturgess, Geoffrey Rush and Sam Neill. Directed by Zack Snyder. Rated PG (Mild violence and scary scenes). 97 minutes.
Impressive, but not quite satisfying.
The film is advertised as 'from the producers of Happy Feet'. While this is true, the implications are quite misleading. Yes, birds are involved, owls instead of penguins, but, while Legend may be a literal hoot, it is not a cheery, funny hoot as was Happy Feet. It is not a film for young children unless you want to frighten them. It is for an older children's audience. Had the poster said, 'from the director of 300 and Watchmen', that would have been more indicative of the tone.
The other difficulty is that while the owls don't exactly look alike, it is still hard to recognise one from the other (and their names aren't the easy Tom, Dick and Harry types either), so that a great deal of psychic energy is exercised trying to recognise who is who (actually, that sounds like an owl cry!).
That said, the film is visually strong, the forests, the seas, the rebels' retreat under the guise of an orphanage with captured owlets. The action is powerful, as good owl battles bad owl, in the tradition of The Lord of the Rings (and Soren, the little hero does have an Elijah Wood look at times).
The film opens in an Eden-like forest where good parents have two sons, rather Cain and Abel like, Soren a dreamer who loves to listen to the legends of the heroic owls, Kludd an unimaginative realist. When they get lost in the forest, they are abducted, along with their sister, and taken to the hidden fortress where a would-be-king and his imperious queen, are brain-washing the young owls into becoming a rebel army. Soren escpaes but Kludd finds a congenial home.
Soren discovers the realm of wise owls and the home of his legendary hero, the island of Ga'Hoole. As expected, he trains, absorbs the ethos of the owls and, when the crisis comes and the owls are betrayed by an ambitious governor, battles ensues. It is the making of Soren and a duel with his brother.
The screenplay emphasises the vanquishing of evil by the good.
As mentioned, director Zach Snyder knows battles with his Thermopylae film, 300, and heroics with Watchmen. The voice cast is led by British Jim Sturgess as Soren. Helen Mirren is there but the rest of the voice cast list is an extensive catalogue of top Australian actors including Hugo Weaving, Sam Neill, Geoffrey Rush, Barry Otto, Richard Roxburgh, Anthony LaPaglia, Ryan Kwanten, Abbie Cornish, Emily Barclay.
Spectacular, but not as involving as one would like.
Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Out September 27 2010.