Fucking Slo-Mo Owl Battle Sequences Like Yeah

09/24/2010 4:00 AM |

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole
Directed by Zack Snyder

When Zack Snyder adapts something—Frank Miller’s 300; George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead—he adapts it hard. That is not to say he adapts it well, or even that he avoids missing key points his source tries to make (sorry about that, Alan Moore’s Watchmen), but he calls upon everything in his filmmaking arsenal—ultra-slow motion; fast-motion; ultra-slow motion transitioning into fast-motion; and, less conspicuously, an eye for Jim Lee splash-page style visuals—with maximum gusto and vigor. In other words, it’s a scary, intense kind of love. Now, with the animated Legend of the Guardians, he gives the Snyder treatment to… owls.

Yes, technically he’s adapting an actual children’s book series called Guardians of Ga’Hoole (inelegantly expanded into an even more unwieldy movie title complete with the required epic colon), and that’s probably where the movie’s surprising volume of owl facts come from. But without knowledge of the greater Owls of Ga’Hoole universe, Legend of the Guardians plays like Snyder stayed up late watching Animal Planet and decided that holy shit, owls are so fucking cool and I should make a movie showing everyone how fucking cool owls are. So he pays tribute the only way he knows how: by having them battle each other in slow motion.

At this point, I should clarify that no, this isn’t exactly Zack Snyder directing The Bear. This isn’t even the first ten minutes of that Disney movie Dinosaur. These owls talk, make plans, and occasionally don armor or accessorize their talons with metal extensions. But we also get to hear about different owl species and sizes, how their wings make them silent hunters, and much discussion of owl pellets, and these educational sprinkles give the movie an odd, endearing earnestness. These cartoon owls behave enough like real ones that when the Snyder-cam slow-mo kicks in, the movie sometimes looks like a particularly cracked-out nature documentary.

That’s probably not enough to engage adult animation fans, or even for parents of younger children to overlook the considerable violence, as calculatedly bloodless as 300‘s skirmishes were soaked in fanboy-appeasing red. The story is boilerplate mythmaking stuck on repeat: quest, train, battle, train, battle, quest, battle. Plucky Soren (voice of Jim Sturgess) is snatched away from his owl family, and seeks the Legendary Guardian Owls of Ga’Hoole to help stop the Rumored-About Aggressor Owls from Nowhere Near Ga’Hoole from carrying out their dastardly plans, which, yes, do involve owl pellets. The animation is often gorgeous (with some nice 3-D flight sequences, still probably not worth the upcharge for all of your hypothetical kids), the dialogue sometimes mildly droll, and, well, owls are generally pretty cool, weird creatures to watch, especially when they square off against bats (not, for some reason, granted the power of English-and-Australian-accented speech, or, worse, any speech at all!). But you won’t take much away apart from some neat owl facts and Snyder’s childlike enthusiasm; I’m still waiting to find out more about him than what he thinks is cool.

Opens September 24