Friday, October 15, 2010

Have I mentioned lately how much I hate Legend Of The Guardians: The Owls Of Ga'Hoole?

Oh, I have? Ah, but I didn't explain why.

Okay, okay. At the behest of a few followers who wished for me to elaborate, Legend of the Guardians shall now receive far more than it deserves, which is the time it will take me to write a proper review.

NO, IT WAS NOT THE FACT THAT THEY WERE OWLS.

I love owls. If you don't believe me, perhaps the following will say a thing or two about how obsessed I am with them.

Here is a singing owl from my personal collection.



And here is a gorgeous statue of an owl roost.



Here is an owl eyemask which I wear every night to go to sleep. It's a gag about being a nightowl, you see?



Everyone thinks the residents of Owl Village are creepy but me.



I also read a lot on the subject.



This may have all started with an old Amiga sidescrolling shooter by Psygnosis called "Agony". In it, you were an owl who could shoot waves of energy and collect swords that floated around you psychically. The aim of the game was basically to be an owl and kick some ass.



IN SHORT, I FUCKING LOVE OWLS!!!

So how did Animal Logic manage to take my absolute favourite family of birds (and I love birds in general), make an entire movie out of them, and leave me feeling spectacularly underwhelmed, even frustrated?

Well, it's this poisonous little word I tend to unsheathe like a weapon quite frequently on this bitchy blog of mine:

Story.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, in my years as an avid viewer of any film I can get my hands on, and after a degree's worth of studying film and animation in squirming, pinned-to-the-wall scrutiny, I have officially lost my ability to "switch off my brain" and enjoy a film that clearly doesn't take the art of storytelling seriously. I feel insulted as soon as I become consciously aware that a writer is attempting to deliberately manipulate my emotions through the use of hackneyed story mechanics as opposed to skillful use of empathy. This is the ultimate downfall of Legend of the Guardians: cliché.

I am going to try not to spoil too much here (I have actually encountered human beings who like this movie for some reason), but it's not much of a movie-killer to say that the hero's brother, Kludd, is so incredibly lacking for any proper motivation to his actions that it is a wonder he is even there. He feels more like a tool of the writers than a character, and once you push a character into that brainless territory you seriously need to write a second draft.
There were some good messages in this film that were more or less squandered completely.
A theme that should have been brotherly forgiveness under any circumstances came out of the oven shaped more like a cautionary tale about blind ignorance. The bad guys sounded and felt like some kind of Owl faschist regime, delegating lower orders to slave labour, but the villains of the piece were not scary. Least of all Metal Beak, and if you can't make a fascist scary then you're doing it wrong. He should have been better developed, but instead it felt more like he was just sitting there on the Bad Guy platform doing jack shit when in fact, the queen was a lot more intimidating and performed a lot more action. Either something of his character has been lost in translation from the books these are based on or he is such a weak villain they ought to have cut him out of the story altogether.
The plot runs around in circles to the point of exhaustion, and by the end of it you just want the damn story to be over and done with. The characters are almost universally infuriating, with only a couple of exceptions. The protagonist in particular is a boring, vapid character, which is unfortunately a very common problem in stories; they try to play a 'straight' character for the main role, but there's a difference between the straight man in an oddball cast and the most boring character in the movie. I think Soren's dedicated belief that the guardians are real is supposed to be somehow endearing, but it just comes off as annoying. I actually sympathised with his brother until the eightieth mean quip, because I agreed with him. It was suggested that Kludd had heard the same damn story from Soren a billion times before and even before they met them in the movie, I was sick of the bloody guardians.

But enough about the story. There are other things that weaken this movie, unfortunately.

Zack Snyder amazes me, he really does. I enjoyed The 300. I also enjoyed Watchmen, I thought they were both brilliant movies (well, the theatrical version of Watchmen, at least). People made fun of his overuse of slow motion, but I actually quite liked it! I thought it worked well in The 300 and it was deployed quite sensibly in Watchmen. And then there is Legend of the Guardians.

Good...

Lord...

...does the slow motion get old fast.

For a film so full of fight scenes, there is not a single slash of claws or pass of wings that doesn't lock into painful SUPER HIGH SPEED CAMERA technology porn. If the movie had no slow motion scenes at all, the fights would be far more exciting and believable. But then again the movie would be about eight minutes long.

The film looks beautiful, with exquisitely lush scenery and amazing detail on the owls themselves, but the animation suffers with certain characters like Digger who are grotesquely overanimated (suffering from that overly cartoony "snappy" syndrome I bring up from time to time). There are about three characters like this, and it wouldn't bother me as much if the rest of the owls did not move so gracefully, but it removes a layer of suspension of disbelief when you are watching something that simultaneously looks like a live action nature film and a cartoon.

The score started out quite interesting, it got a bit "heard it all before" toward the end, but as my previous post may have suggested, the inclusion of a montage sequence set to an Owl City song practically had me tearing the arms off my chair in the cinema. I actually felt humiliated to even be present in a cinema screening the movie. If anything does not fit in The Legend Of The Guardians in any capacity, if there is anything that could destroy the tone of that film even more than the poor characterisations and storytelling, it is an Owl City song.

People complained that they didn't understand how owls could fashion armour or bind books if they are just owls. To be honest, I didn't even notice that. I don't nitpick for the sake of nitpicking. I was too busy being consumed with rage over all the story problems.

Finally, the accents.

I am Australian. And the accents got on my nerves. Do people from beyond Queensland really talk like that? Or did the actors put it on a bit for the overseas markets? I'm honestly tempted to guess the latter. The English accents were no better - the scruffy kidnapper owls at the beginning of the movie sounded exactly like what they were: bad cockne impressions. It didn't help that they were trying to play a "two-man British comedy team" that fell on its face so hard it left a small crater.

Alright, I'm done whinging!

Ta, loves.

5 comments:

  1. I'm trying to recall what the plot of the movie was..

    There is this legion of evil owls who were set to unleash this big horrible thing coming from a giant glowing rock which was gathered by "moonblinked" kidnapped owl slaves, some of which our heroes came in, and through the charity of a disgruntled soldier who lived a life of torment under the evil regime decided to teach the heroes to fly. They learn fast (about 5 minutes) and fly out, along with some friends they meet on the way, in search of "The Guardians" who were up to this point only a legend but we learn are really a secret society who live in seclusion mainly because there hasn't been anything for them to do for all this time (until now). The hero's brother decides to betray his family and join the bad guys (the main conflict). The heroes plea to the Guardians to take down the evil organisation (I really can't remember what they called themselves) and so they do and our hero meets his hero from the legends and becomes his protegé and learns how to fly against the wind which means he's ready for the final showdown with his brother. There's also a sub-plot about a traitor in The Guardians who leads them into a trap and so give the heroes the opportunity to come in and save the day.

    The part I found unconvincing is how The Guardians make the transition from "legend" to reality. What made it difficult is that the story didn't really begin anywhere, we just intruded into the lives of an owl family and it's like we're supposed to care because, well, I don't know, that's the difficulty: I didn't care at all.

    The pretty graphics and flying around weren't really enough for the film to fall back on, either. They got boring pretty fast, since flying around in slow-motion is pretty much all that happens when they're not telling the story.

    I can't say any simple answer to what would improve this story, it's a complex solution that involves many factors it would verge on pointlessness to even try. I just wished every character could have had a proper introduction, rather than invading their world like a voyeur coldly examining the behaviour of specimens.

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  2. Marvelously worded, Arch. Our opinions are somewhat merged on this front.

    Though I have to say not even I realised how incredibly overcomplicated the plot was until you attempted to outline it above. You even missed out a few things - keeping in mind they run into Digger and his musician friend, picking up their snake nanny along the way somehow, and running into an Aboriginal echidna who gives them some kind of prophecy. And there was that whole thing about the sister getting moonblinked.

    Holy crap, this movie was for -kids-???

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  3. I haven't watched the movie yet, but from what I saw in previews, the main owl looked like he was about to cry in every scene. I couldn't take anything seriously.

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  4. He acts and sounds like he's about to cry in every scene, too. They try to play him up like this wannabe warrior who eventually learns about the cold realities of war, but what we actually get is a wet sop who somehow manages to bitchslap his way through the final boss while spending the rest of the movie getting on everybody's nerves. He wants to be in a fight until he's actually in one.

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