Blu-ray
Highly Recommended
4 stars
Overall Grade
4 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Movie Itself
3.5 Stars
HD Video Quality
5 Stars
HD Audio Quality
5 Stars
Supplements
2 Stars
High-Def Extras
3 Stars
Bottom Line
Highly Recommended

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole

Street Date:
December 17th, 2010
Reviewed by:
Drew Taylor
Review Date: 1
December 13th, 2010
Movie Release Year:
2010
Studio:
Warner Brothers
Length:
90 Minutes
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG
Release Country
United States

Editor's Notes

Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of 'Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole - 3D.'

The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

When I get down to writing my comprehensive essay collection/book on the oeuvre of sensory overload specialist Zack Snyder, there will be a special chapter devoted to 'Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole.' Maybe I'll put the essay collection/book out around the time that his upcoming Superman feature, 'Man of Steel,' opens in 2012.

For one, it's the director's first animated feature. After making the very-adult features 'Dawn of the Dead,' '300,' and 'Watchmen,' Snyder decided to switch it up and do a dark-ish children's fantasy fable (based, it should be noted, on three books written by Kathryn Lasky) instead. It's closest relative is probably Don Bluth's 1982 film 'The Secret of NIMH' (a film which shared, amongst other things, a quasi-mystical undercurrent and anthropomorphic owls).

It's also Snyder's first movie that was rendered and released in eye-popping 3-D. Why this should matter is because Snyder has been crafting films, since his debut, 2004's underrated remake 'Dawn of the Dead,' that have been chock full of the kind of moments that routinely fill 3-D movies. Things like the opening title sequence of 'Watchmen' or all of '300.'

With 'Legend of the Guardians,' Snyder takes on the story of a band of plucky young owls as they fight back against some other, very bad owls (with the help of the titular Guardians, a kind of super-heroic avian tribe), has amped up his already adrenaline-infused style. Whole scenes go by where Snyder seems to be focusing solely on the way that the characters' feathers ruffle in the wind.

Another Zach Snyder staple, his tendency to slow down film so that things move at an infinitesimal speed and then quickly charge them back up to normal (or sometimes) advanced motion (something the internet movie fans have dubbed "speed ramping"), gets the workout here too. But what was once a garish visual flourish on top of a sea of other, similarly slick and technically able visual flourishes, comes across as more beautiful and poetic.

Which brings us, in the most roundabout way possible, to why I liked 'Legend of the Guardians' so much - because it looks so pretty. The animation was handled by Australia's visual effects and animation house Animal Logic who provided the sturdy animation for George Miller's penguin blockbuster 'Happy Feet.' Here they repeat the same winning combination of extreme photo-realism with wonderful character work, creating living, breathing creatures that not only look really wonderful but also have significant character traits, too.

The story is another matter altogether - it's disjointed and often feels episodic (when I found out that it was based on three books, I wasn't surprised) in nature. As cool as everything else is, on a narrative level, it's like a collection of television episodes as opposed to one fully developed arc. The owls (and various other animals - I got a particular kick out of a shamanistic echidna) are voiced by an impressive collection of actors including Jim Sturgess, Ryan Wanten, David Wenham, Anthony LaPaglia, Helen Mirren, Sam Neill, Hugo Weaving, and Geoffrey Rush and, although they have some very admirable character traits (see above), aren't going to be remembered on the same level as the characters from, say, 'Toy Story 3' or even 'How to Train Your Dragon.'

'Legend of the Guardians,' while a visual feast and a cut above most animated family fare (this chews up and spits out slop like 'Despicable Me' and 'Megamind'), isn't anybody idea's of a classic. Still, I really enjoyed watching it and can picture myself one day (lord willing) showing it to my children. Also, it'll make for a great chapter in my Zach Snyder book.

The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats

The 'Legend of the Guardians' disc automatically plays, after which you're treated to a truly groan-inducing advertisement for the Warner Bros movie rewards program. The 50GB Blu-ray disc is Region Free and BD-Live-equipped. And the review copy I was sent had two discs - a Blu-ray disc and a DVD copy (which also housed the digital copy). I believe there's another version coming out with a 3D copy. Imagine that!

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

It would be easy to call 'Legend of the Guardians'' MPEG-4 AVC-encoded 1080p (2.35:1 aspect ratio) perfect, because it is. It's one of those amazing, pick-your-jaw-up-off-the-floor flawless presentations that only comes around once in a while (and mostly in conjunction with a direct-from-the-digital source computer animated movie).

Still, we can recount the basics: absolute clarity, dynamic amount of detail, colors that pop (again: look at those streaks of blue paint on the echidna - love it!) and deep, dark blacks. Not a spot of grain or anything else even remotely filmic for that matter, but still deep and textured and not too phony. There aren't any technical glitches to speak of, either.

I watched this movie for the first time on Blu-ray and thought, for the first time in a while, "Man, I wish I had seen this in the theater in 3-D" because it really is that gorgeous. One of the more interesting things, stylistically, is how lifelike and naturalistic the creatures look and feel, and this aspect is really highlighted by the outstanding video presentation on this disc.

There really isn't much to say besides - check this out! If you want to really wow your buddies with your upgraded home theater set-up, then throw this disc on - there's a scene where the owls are learning to fly through a rainstorm, with lightning crashing behind them, and at one point Snyder slows the film down so you can see individual water droplets as they strike the birds' feathers. It's incredible stuff, made even more so by the transfer.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

But wait! The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is just as perfectly perfect as the video!

Zack Snyder movies are LOUD, and this film is no exception. Every sound and sound effect that could be rendered in a staggeringly beautiful way is - the flap of wings, the crash of thunder, the sound of fire as it engulfs a small area. And all of the animal sounds - the screeching of the bats and owls to the way that the echidna's spines prickle, it's all there, never overbearing or too in-your-face.

There's near-constant (but never superfluous use of the surround channels) which adds a much needed layer of depth and believability. The movie's tactile visual style crosses over to the sound design aspect of things, and this mix, with strong directionality and excellent use of the various channels, really brings all the scampering, skittering, soaring creatures to life.

Additionally, dialogue (in a variety of accents that vary in their level of intelligibility) sounds crisp, clear, and well prioritized, even when two owl brothers are having an emotional chat in front of a roaring, out-of-control fire. Dialogue obviously isn't a huge part of the movie, but it's good to know that they didn't forget about all the loud crashing stuff and forget about the spoken word; dialogue is never overwhelmed or smothered out by other aspects of the mix.

This is just a super solid mix, one of the best I've heard in a while, that is totally active and dynamic without ever sacrificing that for the clarity of dialogue and quieter scenes. Totally well done and every bit as good as the video presentation.

Also included on the disc are the following audio options: French Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1 and subtitles in English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese.

The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff

'Legend of the Guardians' has a fair amount of extras, both shared and exclusive-to-the-Blu-ray, which is even more impressive when you consider the movie came out less than four months ago.

  • The Guardians of Earth (HD, 15:09) This is a brief, environmentally inclined look at the role that owls play in ecology. It's slight, but the kids might get a kick out of it.
  • Fur of Flying (HD, 3:04) This is a new Looney Tunes short, which I understand was also part of the supplemental package for 'Cats & Dogs: Revenge of Kitty Galore.'

HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?

Now we're digging into the good stuff. Keep in mind that the disc is BD-Live enabled, but there weren't any BD-Live available functions at the time of this review. Hopefully there will be some in the weeks ahead, so keep your eyes peeled.

  • Maximum Kid Mode This is a kid-friendly version of Warner Bros' patently in-your-face augmented viewing option, where a filmmaker "hosts" the commentary and occasionally veers away from the movie itself to indulge in behind-the-scenes marginalia. This is the first one of these that is hosted by an animated character, though (in this case, lead owl Soren who I always thought of as "the cream-colored one" when I was watching the movie). This is definitely for the younger set but still interesting, as the emphasis is not on filmmaking craft this time out but rather the owls' real-life impact on the world's ecosystems. Educational and fun!
  • Interactive Activities Branching out from the Maximum Kid Mode is two "games" - one where you dress owls in armor ("Armor Up with Soren and Eglantine") and one where you feed owls various foods ("Match the Owl Treats"). Thrilling, for sure.
  • Legend of the Guardians: Rise of the Guardians (HD, 2:12) This is a storybook version of the condensed, more obscure story that opens the film (which recounts the adventurous derring-do of the titular guardians). This is a pretty cool little trifle and should have been in the movie.
  • Artwork Galleries There are four artwork galleries for you to click through, all of which contain some pretty staggering pre-production images. The galleries are "Guardians," "Villains of St. Aegolius," "Locations," and "Soren & Friends."
  • "To the Sky" Music Video by Owl City (HD, 3:40) Just awful.

Final Thoughts

If you enjoyed Zack Snyder's 'Legend of the Guardians' in the theater (as I did, on home video), then picking up this Blu-ray is kind of a no-brainer. With exemplary, reference-quality audio and video and a whole host of special features that will keep everybody happy, especially the little owlets. The movie itself is a surprisingly dark fantasy fable which looks absolutely incredible and gets along with some punch (despite the somewhat fragmentary nature of the narrative). If you're looking for something that can entertain both you and the youngins, then you could do a lot worse than this (especially since you also get a DVD and digital copy for the sticker price). Excuse the pun, but 'Legend of the Guardians' is a hoot.

Technical Specs

  • Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy Combo Pack

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 1080p/TBA

Aspect Ratio(s)

  • 2.40:1

Audio Formats

  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Subtitles/Captions

  • English SDH, Spanish, French, Portuguese

Supplements

  • True Guardians of the Earth
  • Looney Tunes Short "Fur of Flying"

Exclusive HD Content

  • WB Maximum "Kid" Mode - Explore the World of Ga'Hoole
  • Rise of the Guardians
  • "To the Sky" Music Video by Owl City
  • 4 Artwork Galleries - The Guardians, The Locations, The Villains, Soren & Friends
  • Interactive Challenges

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