After seeing hulking brutes of men kick each other off cliffs and rogue superheroes take on all-mighty super powers, director Zack Snyder tackles… owls. Animated owls.
This is the first time the director hasn’t been tapped to direct something R-rated, Legend of the Guardians saddled with a meager PG for some rough owl-on-owl violence. That means kids can get a slight taste of Snyder’s style, albeit the intention of 3D gets in the way.
There’s a lot of flying in Guardians, as if that’s a shock once you know this is about some birds. It’s flagrant though, lots of winks at the virtual camera, slow motion close-ups, and a nicely designed spin through a rain storm that while impressive, is obviously showing off for those in the audience wearing special glasses.
It’s hard to say there is anything really wrong with that since this movie is gosh darn beautiful, most of it taking place at sunset. The powerful, bright orange hues work their way into the feathers of the owls, creating a stunning lighting effect as warring factions go to war.
This is some above average kids fare, these owls, some legendary (hence the title) and others warlike with an intent to take over the world (bad guys have such lofty goals). With that backdrop, we are introduced to a small family of owls, slight outcasts who can’t even fly. They’re given distinctive names, from Gylife (Emily Barclay) to Otulissa (Abbie Cornish). Our hero though is Soren (Jim Sturgess), out to rescue his brother from the claws of St. Aggie’s, a group that brainwashes little ones into slavery.
Guardians is a fun story of brotherly mistrust, talking animals, and some innovative means of avoiding the harshest violence. It’s more or less sold on its visuals, pulling the audience in early so the somewhat choppy third act can go unnoticed, the wealth of action and brawling enough to carry it regardless. Repetitious as it can be (when you’ve seen one mountain fly-by, you’ve seen them all), Guardians still has energy and the looks.
Warner issues an AVC encode for Guardians, apparently finally switching their codecs, if not some of their filtering policies. No question, in close this film looks stunning. The meticulous animation creates individual feathers, moving about as the owls do, or flapping in the wind as they glide. Each is resolved, defined, and rendered without fault. Nothing gets in the way, the screen free of aliasing or compression problems, even in complex situations. A spectacular run through a heavy thunderstorm is an audio and video highlight, in slow motion individual droplets splashing off the birds with complete precision.
Colors maintain the appropriately warm hues of those dusk backdrops. That’s most of the film too, given that same inviting look that is never offensive. The earthy tones that dominate are saturated, but not excessively so. The warm browns of the owl feathers, rich greens of the trees, and outstanding blues of certain water-heavy environments are gorgeous. As the moon takes over the sky, it brings with it a pale look, generally happening inside St. Aggie’s where it makes perfect sense. The dim grays are equally impressive, especially as the queen stands over the workers, her bright white coat of feathers pure.
Black levels deliver that proper level of dimensionality all animated films try to reach, Guardian maybe slightly more impressive as most of it takes place in darker conditions. They keep shadow detail in check and the depth perfect.
Where the transfer draws concern are some of the distant aerials, the only time there’s some indication that this is a Warner new release. They look filtered like almost everything the studio is putting out these days, lines slightly rigid and coarse and definition murky. Some of this is the source, the tree bark a fairly mundane texture in the early going, while other times it’s just the expectation. Then again, maybe it’s some artifact of the 3D process. Whatever the case, it’s of minimal concern, harming only a few shots, slight enough that the majority of viewers will still have their breath taken away by the other visuals.
This is a technical powerhouse of uncompressed audio, Warner choosing DTS-HD for this one. What starts as a quiet, subdued affair focused mainly on making the forest come alive with ambiance (and it does that quite well) turns into a monster. Positional dialogue is here in extremes, at a peak around 18:40 as an owl flies around the soundfield, talking the whole time. The pan effect is incredible, precise, and immersive.
The flying scenes carry the expected wind effects in addition to lavish stereo work as the birds move side to side. They whip around front to back here, or even during a take-off. Fight scenes, including that aggressive finale, feature clashing metal claws reproduced with flawless fidelity and in one of five channels, wherever it should be.
Of special note are two storms, in both the owls flying in the rather horrid conditions. Snow nearly encapsulates them at 44:30, heavy winds catching in the high and low-end to complete the effect. Even better is a thunderstorm, reproducing some jarring, room-shaking rumbles at 57:24, a demo sequence if there ever was one. It’s all in tune too, nothing overpowering to the point where the dialogue is lost or any element of the sound design disappears. Spectacular.
Maximum Kid Mode leads off the extras, interesting that instead of say Zack Snyder hosting, the animated Soren does. It’s geared for the younger set with the basics of the environment and the owl habitats. For those who want to learn about the movie, well, you’re out of luck. Guardians of the Earth continues to plunge into environmental issues, and a Looney Tunes short is only related in that is deals with flying. A prequel storybook, some games, galleries, and a music video are left, probably great for the kids if no one else.