“Legend” soars with stunning imagery

By Mark Schiffer

Courtesy Legends of the Guardian Flickr
Whether or not you enjoyed the violence-pornography hybrid that was “300,” it was undeniably the film through which director Zack Snyder created his own kind of visual signature. Snyder’s most recent film, “Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole,” proves to be a product of his post-”300” hyper-directed style.

Without so much emphasis placed on visual flair, the film would be a rather rote adaptation of the Kathryn Lasky-penned series of children’s novels from which it mines its source material. But with Zack Snyder at the helm, the audience can more easily switch off its cynicism and go along for the ride.

Right from the opening scene, the audience is treated with the Snyder special – a slick action sequence seamlessly transitioned into super smooth slow-motion for a few seconds, before the scene snaps back to full speed and continues to hurtle along. This technique comes back more than a few times throughout the film, each time producing some stunning visual tableau or another.

Be sure to watch the visuals closely, because you have already heard the story thousands of times before. The tale is of a fabled army of owls, the titular “Guardians,” who are the only ones who can save the owl kingdom of Ga’Hoole. It is the mission of Soren (enthusiastically voiced by Jim Sturgess of “Across the Universe” fame) to find and retrieve these fabled Guardians, for the purpose of saving the owl kingdom from the clutches of the “Pure Ones,” an evil army of barn owls headed by Nyra (voiced by, of all people, Helen Mirren of “Red” notoriety), and Metalbeak (Joel Edgerton).

This isn’t new material by any means, but with three novels compressed into an hour and a half, it would be an impressive feat for Snyder to allow any part of the movie to drag or feel stale.

Rather, the film moves along at a blistering clip, never lingering for more than 10 minutes or so in any one location. While the characters are never really allowed to develop because of this, they are such identifiable types that thoughtful development would feel unnecessary. At one point, the character Twilight even labels each protagonist’s role in turn – and then they proceed to cross an ocean in about five minutes.

Between all of this, we see callbacks to the classic fantasy/action clichés of brother-fighting-brother and believing in the power of storytelling. The film feels like one long allusion to fantasy tropes of old, bringing to mind echoes of “Lord of the Rings” and “Star Wars.” The basic difference seems to be – besides all the panache that the director brings to the table – that every cliché is spoken and acted out by an owl, which as an object of ridicule never really loses its fun.

But Zach Snyder knows this, and allows the film to unfold with little-to-no winks. Every slow-motion, hyper-stylized sequence feels entirely in-the-moment. If you haven’t seen these clichés acted out before, here they are depicted with apparently almost dogged earnestness. This makes “Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole” everything it should be – namely, a very solid fantasy-based children’s adventure film. While it is perhaps a little troubling that Snyder still must rely on highly efficient killing machines to power even his children’s movie, his heart is in the right place here.

Garth Brody can be reached at [email protected] Mark Schiffer can be reached at [email protected]