When you make films such as the fantastic Dawn Of The Dead remake, the blockbuster 300 and Watchmen (which I, for the record, loved), one might wonder what could be next for the genre-bending filmmaker Zack Snyder. If you were a betting person, I doubt you'd bet that the next film he would make was Legend of The Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole, which will hit theaters nationwide on September 24. Snyder himself even admitted that this film wasn't necessarily in his wheelhouse.
"Everyone is familiar with the other films, 300, Watchmen, Dawn Of The Dead and, of course, an animated owl movie," said Snyder last night at the screening of Legend of The Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole footage on the Warner Bros. lot. "It completely makes sense," he added, which brought many laughs to those in attendance.
As an occasionally-betting man, I wouldn't have put my odds on a film like this, based off the book series by Kathryn Lasky, an animated film that features owls on a quest for redemption, as Snyder's new film. However, as I learned last night, a bet on Snyder, no matter what the odds, is a bet worth making.
I was invited down to the Warner Bros. lot to check out an exclusive glimpse at this film, a selection of fantastic 3D scenes that even had the 3D skeptic in me wondering why all 3D films can't look as glorious as this film did. In case you're not caught up on the story of the film, here's the complete synopsis below before I continue any further:
Acclaimed filmmaker Zack Snyder makes his animation debut with the fantasy family adventure Legend of The Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole, based on the beloved books by Kathryn Lasky. The film follows Soren, a young owl enthralled by his father's epic stories of the Guardians of Ga'Hoole, a mythic band of winged warriors who had fought a great battle to save all of owlkind from the evil Pure Ones. While Soren dreams of someday joining his heroes, his older brother, Kludd, scoffs at the notion, and yearns to hunt, fly and steal his father's favor from his younger sibling. But Kludd's jealousy has terrible consequences--causing both owlets to fall from their treetop home and right into the talons of the Pure Ones. Now it is up to Soren to make a daring escape with the help of other brave young owls. Together they soar across the sea and through the mist to find the Great Tree, home of the legendary Guardians of Ga'Hoole--Soren's only hope of defeating the Pure Ones and saving the owl kingdoms.
So, you're thinking, why should I really care about the plight of these CGI owls? The answer is that Zack Snyder makes you care. After a sizzle reel of the film, which was made even more stunning in 3D, he described the first clip as the main owls, brothers Soren (Jim Sturgess), the kind-hearted one, and his brother, Kludd (Ryan Kwanten) the more aggressive one, trying to learn how to fly by a process called "branching," where they hop from branch to branch on trees trying to stabilize their flying abilities. Sadly, they both land on the ground - the worst place for an owl to be - where they're swooped up by the evil owls dubbed "the pure ones." However, they meet a new friend along the way in Gylfie, an "elf owl" voiced by Rachael Taylor.
As much of a 3D skeptic as I am, with so many converting for the proverbial quick and easy buck, I found myself incredibly and pleasantly surprised with the 3D footage shown here. It's a much more subtle version of 3D and far less gimmicky and overbearing than other films that have jumped on the 3D bandwagon. Simply put, the 3D is there to enhance the story and, from the looks of what I saw last night, it truly does in fantastic ways.
After that first scene, he explained how he wanted to make the film's look realistic while also blending in elements of fantasy as well.
"I didn't want it to be out of a cartoon, but I was wondering how real we could make the owls feel but still make the world feel fantastical and still make the environment and the architecture and the characters themselves feel like they live in a fantasy world but still have the feathers and the expressions and the textures of the world feel real," Snyder told us.
The next scene we were shown was an introduction to Nyra, the "queen of the bad owls" voiced marvelously by Helen Mirren, after Soren, Kludd and Gylfie are captured by the bad owls, where Nyra tests the resolve of these young owls, sending them to capture a bluebird. It's another fantastic scene and we're given glimpses at one of Snyder's trademarks: the super-slo-mo action shot, which looks marvelous, especially in 3D. We also learn that Grimble (voiced by Hugo Weaving), the owl that captured Gylfie, isn't quite down with the Pure Ones' ways and ultimately helps Soren and Gylfie to escape to go find the Guardians. However, Kludd has been mystified by Nyra and the Pure Ones' ways and takes allegiance with them, trying to stop Soren and Gylfie from escaping. At the same time, Grimble tries to fight off Nyra while Soren and Gylfie make the proverbial run for it which enables them to truly learn how to fly in this wonderful scene.
Snyder explained that this scene leads into their journey to find the Guardians of Ga'hoole and, along the way, they, "form a little band and as they go, they pick up characters along the way." The next scene we were shown introduced us to one of these new characters, Digger, an incredibly hyper owl who has the unique talent/ability to actually burrow underground to hide from his captors. We first meet him when Soren and Gylfie are hunting for food and they capture a moth, which, apparently, was Digger's moth and he takes them to task for it. When the pint-sized Gylfie shows up behind him - who would hardly seem to be a threat - Digger thinks its an ambush and displays why he carries that namesake, burrowing into the ground to avoid the ambush that never happens. Soren and Gylfie make nice with Digger and he takes them into his hollow. Digger certainly seems like a fun character, with his wacked-out persona and super-hyper demeanor that provides a nice contrast to the mild-mannered Soren and Gylfie.
The next scene we were shown introduces us to one of the Guardians - who are thought by most owls not to even exist - when they save Digger after his wings freeze up and he plummets towards the sea. They ask Soren and Gylfie to fly with them to their secret tree lair, which Snyder described as, "an owl Camelot, which we were trying to do in the lighting and the design and just the general vibe of the Tree of Ga'hoole." When they get to the tree, Soren and Gylfie tell their tale about the Pure Ones to the Parliament, and the Guardians debate whether or not what they say is true. The look of the lair is splendid and it's quite a marvel to behold, especially in 3D.
In the last scene of the night, we get to meet Ezylryb, voiced by Geoffrey Rush, one of the Guardians who teaches Soren, Gylfie and "the band" how to fly in rough weather. Snyder explained that, "he sees in Soren the potential, that he has this amazing ability inside himself that he can't seem to get it out." The scene is truly a visual marvel, as we see Ezylryb guide Soren and Gylfie through a harsh rainstorm, and the attention to detail here with the rain, the owl's plumage and even how the owl's plumage reacts to the elements. It truly is stunning and I honestly wish you all could've seen the footage I saw last night in 3D. I know that a lot of people are truly getting sick of seeing everything in 3D, but, trust me, with this stunning animation and Zack Snyder's visionary work at the helm, this will be a film that is truly worth seeing in 3D.
That about wraps it up from my Legend of The Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole night on the Warner Bros. lot. The film opens on September 24 and after seeing what I saw last night, I'll be eagerly awaiting this film's release because I honestly can't wait to see the whole thing on the big screen in what looks to be one of the best examples of 3D animation to date. Peace in. Gallagher out!