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
Warner Home Video brings 'Legend of the Guardians' to Blu-ray 3D as a three-disc combo set. The first two discs are Region Free, BD50 discs with one containing the same 2D release already reviewed here and the other is the 3D version of the film. The third is a DVD/Digital Copy disc. All three are housed in a blue keepcase with a holographic cardboard slipcover.
At startup, the disc commences with a forced promo for WB Insider Rewards program and commercial for the Looney Tunes Show on Cartoon Network. Afterwards, we have the standard menu selection with a still picture that's similar to the cover art.
'Legend of the Guardians' lands on Blu-ray 3D with an amazing 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (2.40:1) with several scenes that can easily serve as demo material. The amount of depth and perspective from beginning to end is astounding, as the distance between foreground and background objects appears genuine and incredibly lifelike. Even during moments of quiet conversation, characters seem to move within a three-dimensional space. Scenes of battle come with the standard gimmicks of sharp objects pushing through the screen, but they're impressive nonetheless, placing viewers right in the middle of the exciting action. Sequences that show owls flying through the sky are remarkable and breathtaking with realism, creating a dramatic window-like effect that's first-rate.
The transfer also displays pitch-perfect and spot-on contrast levels, adding to the beautiful 3D picture. Visibility and clarity is extraordinary, exposing every little detail so that the time and effort put into making the film can be truly appreciated and admired. Tree bark, foliage and the hard rock of the battlegrounds are very clear and discrete while every feather and individual marking of each bird is distinguishable and apparent. The texture and fine lines of the plumage are remarkably realistic and distinct, almost as if able to reach out and stroke the bodies of these lovely creatures. Overall definition is spectacular and one of the finest HD features available in 3D, sure to amaze anyone on the fence.
Blacks are to die-for! With deep, penetrating intensity and inky richness, the image is made more profound and marvelous to look at. We can make out each gradational step of the grayscale flawlessly, and shadow delineation is superb within any given scene. While primaries leap off the screen in vivid detail and fervor, the secondary, pastel hues are more prominent with vibrant, full-bodied opulence, transforming distant shots of sundown with calm skies look like resplendent landscape portraits. The entire production is a feast for the eyes.
Any visible issues are minimal and near negligible. There is some slight banding early on, but it doesn't distract and is barely noticeable unless one looks for it. Ghosting is also minor and only worth mentioning in one — maybe two scenes — where it's most obvious. And even then, it's not an eye-catching problem in the video. In the end, 'Legend of the Guardians' comes to Blu-ray 3D with a highly-impressive and jaw-dropping video presentation for fans of the new technology.
Adding to the amazing 3D picture is an equally outstanding DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack that really draws viewers into the intense action. Rear activity seems endless with the sounds of nature, a violent rainstorm and the flames of a forest fire. Imaging is quite expansive and immersive with subtle discrete effects filling the soundfield. Owls fly from the front of the screen and into the back with flawless ease.
The soundstage is satisfyingly wide and welcoming, with plenty of off-screen movement that's convincing. Whether it's the echoing within Metalbeak's cave or as part of an audience at the Great Tree, voices are clear and intelligible amongst the design's louder aspects. Dynamic range exhibits excellent clarity and sharp detail, nicely distinguishing between the highs and mids with brilliant transparency. This is most appreciated during scenes of battle as metallic talons clang and scrape against one another, the noise spreading throughout the speakers and reaching deep into the background. An aggressive and commanding low end accompanies these sequences with a palpable force that can be felt from all sides. All in all, this is an exciting and sensational lossless mix for an animated feature.
Warner Home Video offers this 3D version of 'Legend of the Guardians' with the same set of bonus features seen in the standard Blu-ray release. The only difference is that the third disc contains the 3D movie alone with a Looney Tunes cartoon.
Zack Snyder's 'Legend of the Guardians' is a mildly amusing animated movie with plenty of action and even better, resplendent photography. The dark fantasy fable based on the children's books by Kathryn Lasky works as a decently entertaining family picture in spite of its rather bland storyline. The 3D Blu-ray displays a jaw-dropping video presentation and exceptional audio while featuring the same collection of bonus features found on the 2D release. The overall package is a great purchase for fans and serves as excellent demo material of the 3D technology for the home theater enthusiast.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.