The Aisle Steat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


This review pertains to the theatrical release. My review of the Blu-ray and its special features follows below.

Legend of the Guardians

When you think of owls, what comes to mind? Maybe Winnie the Pooh's sage friend, or perhaps the owl that counts how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop. You might even think of the creatures that deliver mail to Harry Potter. Yes, the owl is a creature that doesn't always get a fair shake, so the idea of a 3D owl-based adventure (with a theme song by Owl City, no less) may seem utterly skippable. And it would be a shame if that happened, because Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole is a real crowd-pleaser, notable for both its breathtaking animation and its effective, completely not-gratuitous use of 3D.

Jim Sturgess provides the voice of Soren, a young owl just learning to fly. He and his brother Kludd fall out of their tree and are promptly scoffed up by a group of other owls known as "the Pure Ones." Their leader, the appropriately named Metal Beak, is kidnapping impressionable younglings, brainwashing them via a technique known as "moon striking," and drafting them into his personal army. Soren manages to escape Metal Beak's clutches. He assembles a team of his own and begins the search for the Great Tree, in hopes that the warriors known as the Guardians of Ga'Hoole will assist in fighting off the enemy.

Storywise, there's not a lot here that hasn't been done in other fantasy movies. You have the emerging hero, the mythic warriors, the loathsome villain, etc. Legend of the Guardians is based on the series of novels by Kathryn Lasky; I'm told that the film differs dramatically from the books. Familiar though the screenplay may be, it at least utilizes elements that are time-tested and effective. I got involved in the plot, despite it being rather routine.

I was able to do so because, visually, this is an extraordinary experience. The CG animation is stunningly gorgeous. There was a time when computers couldn't realistically capture things like fur. Now they can perfectly emulate those things. A lot of the movie consists of close-ups of big owl faces, and you can see the astonishingly realistic level of detail. (Realistic for a movie about talking owls, that is.) The art direction is also exemplary, with particularly beautiful images during sequences in which Soren must fly through a windstorm and a raging fire. All the imagery in Guardians has been designed to immerse you as fully as possible into its fantasy world. It's a place I loved visiting.

There's been a lot of debate about whether or not audiences are growing tired of 3D. I'm of the opinion that it enhances some movies, does nothing for others. Legend of the Guardians is one that benefits from 3D. There are a lot of flying sequences that give you the sensation of swooping from great heights. The owls' wingspans, at times, stretch from the background directly into your face. Director Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen) makes sure to include several scenes where talons seem to be grasping for your eyeballs. All of this adds to the fun. It's totally worth the up-charge to see this movie in 3D.

Legend of the Guardians may be too scary/intense for kids under the age of 9 or 10, but for anyone older than that it's very entertaining, with some of the most majestic CGI visuals ever put on film.

( 1/2 out of four)

Blu-ray Features:

Legend of the Guardians will be released on DVD or in a Blu-Ray/DVD/digital copy combo pack on December 17. The Blu-ray looks magnificent when watched on an HDTV.

The Blu-Ray special features are highlighted by "Maximum Kid Mode." By selecting this picture-in-picture feature, hosted by the owl Soren, you can watch various behind-the-scenes and making-of segments timed to coincide with the feature itself. Animation techniques and character design are among the subjects covered. Kids will enjoy seeing how the film was made, yet the information is substantive enough to appeal to adults as well. This type of "visual commentary" is becoming standard on Warner Home Video Blu-Rays, and it is an excellent use of the format's capabilities.

"True Guardians of the Earth" is a 15-minute segment hosted by Digger and child actor Rico Rodriguez. In it, we learn more about owls, with several experts appearing on screen to talk about the birds' distinct features, their habitats, and the threats they face in everyday life. This segment is informative; I learned a few things from watching it, and the footage of real owls is fun to see.

"Rise of the Guardians" is essentially a scene from the movie taken out of context. It allows you to access the bedtime story told to Soren - the one that leads him to set out on his quest. After that are four photo galleries, filled with gorgeous artwork. The owls, the locations, the villains, and Soren and his friends are the subjects of these galleries. Finally, there is a music video for "To the Sky," the film's catchy theme song appropriately performed by Owl City.

Also included is "Fur of Flying," a short CGI-animated Road Runner/Wile E. Coyote cartoon that played prior to Legend of the Guardians during its theatrical run. It's amusing, although like I've said before, I find it odd to see these characters done in anything other than traditional hand-drawn animation.

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole is rated PG for some sequences of scary action. The running time is 1 hour and 33 minutes.