Style above substance

Style soars high above substance in Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole (PG), a visually stunning computer-animated yarn torn from the pages of Kathryn Lasky’s novels.

Screening in most cinemas in gorgeous 3D, Zack Snyder’s film frequently takes our breath away with its meticulous attention to detail, thrilling action and judicious use of slow motion in the aerial skirmishes between rival factions of birds.

Unlike so many films released in the format, key sequences have clearly been designed with the technology in mind, especially when the camera follows behind brave owls as they dive-bomb terra firma, narrowly avoiding rocks and vegetation.

However, once the initial wow wears off, it becomes crushingly apparent that all of the time and effort has been lavished on the visuals and screenwriters John Orloff and Emil Stern haven’t lavished the same care and attention of what comes out of the characters’ beaks.

The flimsy, linear storyline can barely stretch to 30 minutes, let alone an additional hour, and there is little in the way of character development or emotional depth.

Impressionable young barn owl Soren (Jim Sturgess) and his chick sister Eglantine (Adrienne DeFaria) hang on the every word of their father, Noctus (Hugo Weaving), when he tells them about the legendary guardians who have protected their feathered kind for generations.

Soren’s brother Kludd (Ryan Kwanten) dismisses such talk because no-one has ever seen the guardians.

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“All because you can’t see something doesn’t mean it’s not real,” counsels Noctus.

During an attempt to learn to fly, Soren and Kludd are captured by sentry owls under the control of the villainous Metalbeak (Joel Edgerton) and his mate, Nyra (Helen Mirren).

They are putting together an army to overthrow the guardians, led by the majestic Boron (Richard Roxburgh) and battle-scarred Ezylryb (Geoffrey Rush).

Soren escapes with a little elf owl called Gylfie (Emily Barclay) and they make haste to find the guardians with the help of owl outcasts Digger (David Wenham) and Twilight (Anthony LaPaglia).

Meanwhile, Kludd stays behind, brainwashed by Nyra into realising his true potential as an airborne assassin.

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole will certainly lack some of the pizzazz in 2D but for all those jaw-dropping aesthetics, it would be nice to feel something for Soren and his friends as they stare death in the eye.

The owls look similar so when they don armour and fly into battle, it’s difficult to distinguish heroes from villains, and vocal performances are pitched at the same low growl so one Australian actor sounds much like the next.

Only Rush really adds quirkiness to his part as the mentor who concludes, “What do I know? I’m just a tired old screech”.

Regrettably, he’s not the only thing about Snyder’s film that runs out of puff.

Rating: 5.5/10