Monday, December 27, 2010

Movie Review: "Legend of the Guardians" (SPOILERS)

On this lovely (but cold) Boxing Day, I decided to rent the movie Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'hoole to watch while I ironed the tremendous amount of laundry that stacked up over the last week.  I just realized that Boxing Day is something celebrated more in the Commonwealth countries than in the United States and Legend of the Guardians is an Australian film, so that's rather fitting.

So here's my review...

The Good

The animation is downright awesome and incredibly detailed, right down to the feathers.  The soundtrack is good, most of the time.

The combat sequences are well-done.  The owls fight like owls would, striking with their talons (upgraded with blades) and dive-bombing.  Metalbeak, the primary villain, is really dark and awesome-looking and he does a good job turning on the evil charisma.  I've described the film to friends as "300 with owls" (it's even directed by the same man) and it does that part well.

Kludd, the protagonist Soren's brother, does have a good character arc--he starts out flawed but basically good and is slowly corrupted into being an owl version of a member of Hitler Youth.

Although Soren manages to avoid killing or being killed by Kludd via a Karmic (Apparent) Death, something I generally object to, he does kill Metalbeak.  And although the effect of having done this isn't really discussed, it's clear that killing another owl has affected him and he has to be reassured by his hero Lyze of Kiel that he had done the right thing.  That adds a bit of moral complexity to the whole situation rather than treating killing even a villain as no big deal or having contrived circumstances end the villain without the hero being responsible.

And on the matter of Lyze of Kiel, the film does get into how horrible war is.  When Soren reads the accounts of the battle in which the Pure Ones were defeated for the first time, Lyze (who was living under the pseudonym Ezylryb and worked as scribe of the Guardians' history) tells him that the war wasn't glorious and heroic.  It was terrible and left him with scars, but it was the necessary thing to do.  That's the right attitude to have--the Pure Ones, like the Nazis that obviously inspired them, needed to be squashed, but that does not make the violence accompanying their squashing good.

The movie is apparently a conglomeration of several novels written by Kathryn Lasky.  It's good to see new intellectual properties being developed rather than endless remakes.

The Bad

I think some of the lesser villains needed more character development.  Although Kludd's skepticism of the existence of the Guardians could provide a partial motivation for him joining the Pure Ones--he might think they'll never be rescued and decides to make the most of a bad situation--I don't think it was sufficient for him to be as jerky as he was, especially before he's really fallen under the Pure Ones' spell.  It would have been better if we saw him bullying his younger siblings or picking fights with his parents before he and Soren were kidnapped, to show there was a superiority complex there the Pure Ones could exploit to bring him over to the Dark Side.

Lord Allomere's reasons for turning traitor are clear when we first see Metalbeak discussing dividing up the owl world with a mysterious figure who turns out to be him--desire for power.  However, in council, he doesn't seem particularly hostile toward the other leaders of the Guardians.  Beyond him trying to cover his treachery by suggesting the Guardians not investigate Soren's claims about the Pure Ones and spouting peacenik cliches when challenged, he doesn't have any concrete policy differences with the other owls, nor do we see anything that suggests he resents Boron and Baran, the king and queen of the tree, and wants their position.

Seeing Soren and Kludd's parents at the celebration of the second defeat of the Pure Ones seemed a bit odd.  There's no way for the Guardians to know where their hollow is to bring them there and Soren and Gelfie finding Twilight, who knows the way to the sea (the first leg of the journey) was a fluke, so the parents finding their way there themselves would be rather dicey. 

I think it would be better to have Soren returning his little sister to the tree while wearing the armor of a Guardian for the first time.  Also, the parents don't seem to mourn Kludd--despite his turning evil, he was still their son.  I think the ending should have been more bittersweet than it was.

Finally, although the music was good, the producers should have stuck with the instrumentals.  The vocals from Owl City were downright annoying.  In addition to that, the overall world seems to be post-human, as it is in the books--we see human ruins and artifacts like books but no evidence we're still around--so including humans singing doesn't really work.

The Verdict:

It's surprisingly deep for a children's movie and a showcase of good animation, although some areas could have been developed better.  I think it's a good movie to see once.  I'd give it 8.5 out of 10.

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