Things I Learned From Movie X
Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'hoole
By Edwin Davies
July 1, 2011

Cue the Barry White.

When Zack Snyder's Sucker Punch provided us with one of the first bona fide flops of 2011, as well as a rare victory for common sense and decency, it also made everyone wonder just how Snyder, who up until that point had displayed considerable savvy in his choice of projects, could get it so wrong. Most of those people had clearly forgotten, or never known, that signs of Snyder's fall from grace (and possibly sanity) had been provided mere months earlier, when his fourth film, a fantasy film about owls fighting each other, had been released to shrugs of indifference the world over. Yet within the giant owl pellet that is Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole, there are nuggets of knowledge that can be extracted for potentially evil purposes. Today, I offer you those nuggets. Don't worry, I've washed them and everything.

Success is directly proportional to how hard your title is to remember and spell

Shakespeare would have us believe that a rose by any other name would still smell as sweet. It's a lovely sentiment, but we must remember that Shakespeare wrote plays that delighted audiences and questioned the nature of the human condition. In short, he didn't know shit about selling roses. If he decided to gives roses a new name, one that was incredibly long, broken up with a colon, and with some errant punctuation thrown in for good measure, he'd have died a pauper's death on the streets of Stratford-Upon-Avon, and we would only know his name as part of a tale, passed from generation to generation, of the man who tried to sell people flowers he called Adventures of the Senses: The Bouquet of Ros'es.

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole, or LOTGTOOG, as the brevity-conscious amongst us refer to it, suffers from much the same problem as that Sideways-Universe version of Shakespeare. Despite the success of fantasy films like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, most people are pretty adverse to really overt fantasy, and if confronted with a title that long, complete with a word that has an apostrophe right in the middle for no good reason, they'll turn away. I mean, where do you put the emphasis on in a word like Ga'Hoole? The Ga or the Hoole? It's a linguistic nightmare that we can all do without.

It's unfortunate that Snyder was forced to use a title that was linked to the book upon which the film is based, because the actual plot of the film provides a much better one. For those unfamiliar with the film (and I'm willing to bet that's roughly 90% of the people reading this) it is about a group of evil owls that seek to subjugate all the inferior species of owls to their will. A sort of "master race" of owls, if you will. Using that aspect, Snyder could have had a billion-dollar worldwide earner if he had just changed the title to NAZI OWLS! (To always be written in all caps, like INLAND EMPIRE, and with an exclamation mark, like Airplane!, both of which are the key reference points for understanding the film, I feel.)

Owls can make candles. Apparently

One of the chief criticisms that has been thrown at Pixar's Cars franchises is that whilst the stories are fairly, perhaps overly, simplistic, the world that they take part in is maddeningly oblique and relentlessly weird. The central idea of a world of sentient cars is, on the surface, playful, but any deeper consideration of it and it all starts to get a little disturbing, as questions like "If these films take place on Earth, then where are all the people?" "How can cars build houses?" and "Have the cars overthrown their human masters, and do they now toil as a slave race who maintain their automotive overlords' houses under pain of being torn to shreds by having chains attached to each of their limbs, which are in turn attached to awaiting, bloodthirsty cars?" start to arise. Also, how would the cars manage to attach the chains to the human slaves' arms in the first place? Anyway, I'm getting distracted by thinking about Cars again. I haven't seen Cars 2 yet, but I seriously hope they show us the human slaves this time because I'm losing sleep worrying about this stuff.

On the surface, the world of NAZI OWLS! doesn't seem that odd, since it just seems to be a film about a bunch of talking owls waging unceasing war against each other. (I am willing to concede that my idea of "odd" might not be the same as most people's.) But there are so many little things that don't make sense in it that they end up distracting from the film itself.

Usually in films about talking animals, there are two distinct approaches to the story; either they are normal animals who exist in the real world, but who can communicate with each other and have their own secret world, or they are anthropomorphized creatures that occupy the same position that humans do in the real world. In NAZI OWLS!, the characters are, for all intents and purposes, normal owls that live in a world which is, apparently, uninhabited by humans. If that is the case, we can assume that owls are the dominant species, yet everything they use is stuff that owls, even ones in a film like this, could never plausibly create, like candles and cloth, because their talons don't bend in a way that would make it possible. One of the characters spends the whole film carting around a harp. How the hell could owls learn how to make harps? They've got talons, talons which lack the physical dexterity to perform the delicate carpentry required, or the intricate process of threading the strings and tuning them. Also, the harps would sound awful being plucked by talons.

And that's just the little things. I mean, why is the evil owls' home called St. Aegolious? How are their saints in this world ruled by owls? Are the evil owls *Catholic* owls? Is there an Owl Pope somewhere canonising other owls so that they can name mountains after them? The world of the film is so poorly thought out that it distracts from the actual plot. Speaking of which...

You can't just throw words around and expect them to make sense

One of the worst crimes that an adaptation of a fantasy book can commit is to assume that absolutely everyone going to see it will be completely and fully aware of its source material. Some series, like Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, could get away with this because they are so phenomenally popular that they could just preach to the converted and make plenty of money, but they don't, instead choosing to provide at least basic explanations of what is going on for anyone who thinks that books are dumb and for chicks.

NAZI OWLS! does none of that, and from the outset starts throwing around words and concepts that are completely alien, assuming that people will care about the different castes of owl, or that they will be able to hear the word "gizzard" without thinking it sounds weird and funny. If this was a kind of sudden and shocking immersion into the world of the film, one designed to throw necessary information at the audience before easing up on the weirder concepts later on, then that'd be fine, but NAZI OWLS! just keeps going further and further down the rabbit hole. (Or whatever the owl equivalent of that saying is. Further up the tree?) After the main character,Soren, is kidnapped and taken to the evil owls' lair, he and a group of other owls are forced to look at the moon for several hours, a process known as "Moonblinking", which is meant to make them docile and easily controlled. Basically, it's a family friendly version of a full-frontal lobotomy. Yet this isn't really explained at all, it's just something that we are told will happen right before it does. There's nothing at stake, no weight, no danger because we don't really understand what is going on.

On the other hand, the film also fails spectacularly when it tries to provide explanations, because its explanations are completely insane. Take The Flecks, the MacGuffin at the center of the film which is meant to provide the evil owls with the advantage they need to finally defeat the Guardians of Ga'Hoole. (God, writing that combination of words made me feel like a fucking idiot.) All that is known about The Flecks for most of the film is that they're blue, they let off some form of energy, and they really hurt owls but don't hurt the bats that the evil owls have joined forces with. There's no real explanation offered until right at the end, when the Guardians are tricked into landing next to The Flecks, and the evil owl played by Helen Mirren (Oh yeah, Helen Mirren's in this. As an evil owl. She really can play anything.) triumphantly shouts, "Bats don't have gizzards to be impaired by the Flecks!" As far as I can tell, this means that The Flecks work by giving owls really, really powerful stomach cramps.

Putting pop songs in a fantasy epic is a really dumb idea

For most of its running time, NAZI OWLS! uses a classy orchestral score to soundtrack all of its action. The one exception is a montage in which Soren learns about blacksmithery (Okay, whilst this *does* answer the question of how all the owls have helmets, HOW DID OWLS INVENT BLACKSMITHERY? THEY LIVE IN TREES, WHY WOULD THEY EXPERIMENT WITH FIRE?) which is set to a song by Owl City.

I decided to start a new paragraph so that you would have a bit of breathing space in which to take in that knowledge, and have an opportunity to groan, cringe or facepalm, whichever you deem most appropriate.

Now, the problem with this isn't the choice of song, but the mere fact that they went for an pre-existing song in the first place. All it does is raise the question of whether or not the song exists in the reality of the film. Is there a band of owls called Owl City (a name which seems kind of redundant) who perform the song? More importantly, it pulls you out of the world of the film. It'd be like Peter Jackson deciding that, instead of using Howard Shore's iconic score, he would set the Hobbits leaving The Shire to I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles) by The Proclaimers.