Hacksaw Ridge


War is a dirty business.

War is a dirty business.

(2016) True War Drama (Summit) Andrew Garfield, Hugo Weaving, Teresa Palmer, Vince Vaughn, Rachel Griffiths, Sam Worthington, Richard Roxburgh, Jacob Warner, Firass Dirani, Luke Pegler, Nico Cortez, Goran D. Kleut, Dennis Kreusler, Nathaniel Buzolic, Ben Mingay, Michael Sheasby, Luke Bracey, Harry Greenwood, Damien Thomlinson, Ben O’Toole. Directed by Mel Gibson

 

It is said that there are no atheists in foxholes, but at the same time there really isn’t a whole lot of room for religion in war either. When one is called upon to kill for king and country (or queen and country as the case may be) one must set aside some of the basic commandments of most religions, as well as the moral compass of society. We generally frown upon killing but wartime gives those who take human life a bit of a pass, although not without consequence. It can take a great deal of courage to set aside one’s morals for the sake of one’s country but it can take a great deal more not to.

Desmond Doss (Garfield) is just an ordinary country boy from the hill country of Virginia back in 1944. He has a deep faith and participates at his Seventh-Day Adventist Church. His father Thomas (Weaving) came back from the Great War traumatized and sometimes violent with his family, particularly with his mother Bertha (Griffiths) whom he loves with a fierce devotion. He rough houses with his brother Hal (Buzolic) – sometimes a little too rough – and pines after the sweet nurse Dorothy Schutte (Palmer) whom he knew from the moment he saw her that he was going to marry her. Well, maybe one day soon.

But there’s a war going on and Desmond doesn’t feel right staying at home while others fight and die for his freedom. He knows he needs to go out there and defend his country, but there’s one problem – his religious beliefs prevent him from killing anyone. In fact, Desmond refuses to even touch a gun. He takes this quite seriously; in fact, he has become a vegetarian (a rarity in that era) because of his beliefs. He therefore decides to enlist in the U.S. Army as a Medic.

The trouble is that somewhere along the line the lines got crossed between Desmond and the military. He is sent for combat training, and combined with his slight frame and his refusal to even defend himself with violence puzzles Sgt. Howell (Vaughn) who is training him, as well as Captain Glover (Worthington), his commanding officer. It also infuriates his fellow soldiers who see it as cowardice and beat him up something fierce.

At last he is given a direct order to shoot a gun, a command he refuses. He is summarily put in the stockade, on his wedding day to make matters worse. He will go up for court martial, which carries with it prison time at Leavenworth. All the boy wants to do is serve his country, and eventually with the help from an unexpected source, he is allowed to do that and for his efforts is shipped off to Okinawa where he will finally get a chance to do exactly what he intended to; to save lives. In the process he will win the highest award our country bestows upon its citizens; the Medal of Honor.

Gibson is not a director who shirks at showing the uglier side of humanity. We see limbs blown off of soldiers, rats gnawing on fresh meat on the battlefield, innards sliding out of horrendous wounds, blood soaking everywhere, bodies blown to bits and the most brutal and savage hand-to-hand combat you’re likely to see. This isn’t for the faint of heart.

Yet at the center of the film is a heart filled with grace. Say what you want about Desmond Doss; he is a man of his word and watching what he did in real life (from most of the sources I’ve read Gibson has stuck pretty close to what Doss really did – even leaving out some feats because he felt that nobody would believe it really happened) is truly inspiring. Heroes wear uniforms, it’s true, but they don’t always beat up the bad guys.

Garfield, who took a lot of criticism for his portrayal of Peter Parker in the Amazing Spider-Man films, has been receiving some end-of-the-year awards attention. His portrayal of Doss is simple and to-the-point. There isn’t a lot of subtlety here and Gibson sometimes goes a little bit over-the-top as when he shows Doss being lowered off the cliff face of Hacksaw Ridge on Okinawa as almost an ascension to heaven. Garfield didn’t need that kind of cinematic excess to make the point for Gibson.

Although Vaughn is the only American in the cast (nearly everyone here is Australian with Garfield and a couple of others who are Brits) the film captures the tones and rhythms of American speech from the era nicely. Gibson also makes the pastoral setting of Lynchburg extremely appealing, as anyone who has visited the town can tell you (yes, we’ve made our pilgrimage to the Jack Daniels distillery – deal with it).

In fact, that setting and pace of life actually slows the film down a bit at the beginning. It really isn’t until the movie gets to Okinawa that things really start to shine here and Gibson shows why he is a very talented man behind the camera. The war scenes are quite simply the best I’ve seen since Saving Private Ryan. It certainly will stay in your memory for quite a while.

Mel Gibson has had a checkered career to say the least. Once one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, he showed every indication that he was going to be one of Hollywood’s biggest directors. Legal issues and some fairly unsavory comments on his part derailed both his acting and directing plans; in fact, this is his first stab at directing in a decade. That Summit has kept quiet his participation, not mentioning by name Gibson’s involvement is a testament to how much of a pariah he became in the industry. One wonders if there isn’t a bit of cinematic self-flagellation going on here. Armchair psychology aside, this is Gibson’s return to form and hopefully he’ll get some opportunities to continue to direct some films that showcase his talents. He certainly has plenty of it to showcase.

REASONS TO GO: A criminally little-known and inspiring story. It might be the best war film since Saving Private Ryan. This is a return to form for Gibson.
REASONS TO STAY: The pacing is a little bit slow in the first third. Some of the images here might be too much for the overly-sensitive.
FAMILY VALUES: Prolonged sequences of graphic war brutality including grisly images and gore.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Doss was the second registered conscientious objector to receive the Medal of Honor – the first was Sgt. Alvin York in World War I. However, while York carried a weapon into war, Doss did not.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/1/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 95% positive reviews. Metacritic: 71/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Flags of Our Fathers
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: Best and Most Beautiful Things

Mission: Impossible II


Mission: Impossible II

Tom Cruise knows how to define cool instead of being defined by it.

(2000) Action (Paramount) Tom Cruise, Dougray Scott, Thandie Newton, Anthony Hopkins, Ving Rhames, Richard Roxburgh, John Polson, Brendan Gleeson, Rade Serbedzija, William Mapother, Dominic Purcell, Matthew Wilkinson, Alison Araya. Directed by John Woo

 

It sounds like an unbeatable combo: Tom Cruise, whose revival of the revered television franchise was a big hit; terrific gadgets; and John Woo, who with apologies to Jan de Bont, Michael Bay and John McTiernan, is the best action director on the planet. Should you decide to accept it? Heck, yeah!

The plot is a bit of a lulu. Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt, who is evidently back in the IMF after the recent unpleasantness is called upon to recruit Nyah (Newton), a beautiful thief to go after Chimera,a creation of an ex-Soviet molecular biologist which has been ripped off by a renegade IMF agent (Scott) who, as it happens, has a previous relationship with the thief and a grudge against Hunt.

Sounds simple enough but let’s face it, this isn’t Mission Simple it’s Mission Impossible right?. Ambrose, the renegade agent, is at least nearly as competent as Hunt and he has no compunction about using deadly force as does Hunt in this iteration. Nyah is the wild card whose allegiance is clearly to herself and whose motivations are murky at best.

Few directors are able to capture the poetry of movement as well as Woo, and the action scenes reflect that aesthetic. Woo stages some incredible action scenes, beginning with a mountain-climbing scene and building to a climactic motorcycle chase and fight. They are marvelously staged and worth every penny that you paid to rent or buy whichever version of it you have in your grubby little hands.

Now, the down side. Much less energy is put into the non-action scenes, and therefore some of the expository scenes drag. Hunt falls in love with the thief too quickly and for no apparent reason other than to make a plot complication the audience could do without. The writers also rely too much on the hoary plot device of disguising the actors as other actors. It seems like every ten minutes, someone is pulling off latex to reveal Hunt’s face or Ambrose’s face. Yes, we get that not everything is as it seems, guys. This is just pure laziness on the writers’ part, a device meant to move the plot along without really putting too much thought into it.

Cruise is surrounded by a capable cast, which is a good thing because he spends most of the movie trying to be emotionless (which translates onscreen as “wooden”). Scott makes a first-rate villain and for my money at the time seemed poised for stardom which to this point has never arrived. Newton is lustrous as the bad girl gone good (more or less) but does little more than point smoldering looks in Cruise’s general direction. Rhames returns from the first movie, but outside of one scene is given little to do beyond monitoring the computer and warning Hunt to be careful. Hopkins has a cameo as the acerbic head of the IMF; we could have done with more of him and less of the latex.

Still, given all the faults of the movie, it’s still a satisfying summer action thriller, full of great stunts, terrific gadgets and things that go boom. Even if you’re at home on a cold winter’s night, there’s nothing better than a big summer movie to take your mind off of things for two hours. This isn’t the best movie in the franchise and it’s a bit disappointing that Woo couldn’t make a better film, but the action sequences alone are worth checking this bad boy out.

WHY RENT THIS: Terrific action sequences. Hopkins is a treasure and Scott not a bad villain at all.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Cruise surprisingly wooden here. Too much latex. Newton not the ideal leading lady.

FAMILY MATTERS: There’s a little bit of sexuality and a whole lot of violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: This was the first movie Metallica ever agreed to write a song for.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: There’s a music video of the aforementioned Metallica song, a couple of tributes to Cruise which seem oddly out of place here and an interesting look at the stunts with the film’s stunt co-ordinator.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $546.4M on a $125M prodution budget; the movie was a big hit.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Quantum of Solace

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: The Big Year

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen


The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

Sean Connery is the epitome of an extraordinary gentleman.

(2003) Action (20th Century Fox) Sean Connery, Richard Roxburgh, Peta Wilson, Stuart Townsend, Naseeruddin Shah, Tony Curran, Shane West, Jason Flemyng, Max Ryan, Tom Goodman-Hill, David Hemmings, Terry O’Neill, Rudolf Pellar, Robert Willox. Directed by Stephen Norrington

 

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, based on a wonderful graphic novel by Alan Moore, had such high expectations among its fans that almost no movie could meet them. Consequently it got terrible reviews and a great deal of Internet drubbing, which is too bad, since it’s quite a nice little movie.

The setting is just before the 20th century. The legendary African explorer and adventurer Allan Quatermain (Connery) lives a semi-retired life, having already found King Solomon’s Mines. He is recruited to save England from a madman, one who is using terrible technology to set world powers against one another in an effort to start a World War.

Queen Victoria is very much against the idea, so she has the mysterious M (Roxburgh) recruit the most extraordinary team of people she can find; Mina Harker (Wilson), who suffers from an unusual blood disease; the brilliant Captain Nemo (Shah), captain of the fabulous Nautilus; Rodney Skinner (Curran), a petty thief who happens to be invisible; and Henry Jekyll (Flemyng), who hides a hideous dark side. They also recruit the fey Dorian Grey (Townsend), a brilliant mind who has seen it all.

Attacked by the goons of their quarry, they escape with the aid of Tom Sawyer (West), a brash American Secret Service agent. Together, as a league, they journey to Venice to prevent the destruction of a peace conference. They are too late to entirely prevent the bombs from going off, but by teaming together they manage to save the city and most of its populace. They find that there is a traitor in their midst, and their adversary is not who they think he is at all.

This film has taken its share of critical abuse, and some of it is deserved. There are some definite leaps in logic; having a sub the size of the Nautilus floating in the canals of Venice is ludicrous at best. The computer-generated Mr. Hyde is dreadful. However, despite the reported problems on the set between Connery and director Stephen Norrington, Connery handles his role like a pro, making a believable Quatermain. He is gruff and irritable but absolutely money in the clutch. This is Connery’s film and he carries it well.

The atmosphere of a Victorian era slightly warped from the reality of history comes off nicely. There are plenty of terrific effects to make this big screen-friendly. The cast, once you get past Connery, is decent enough but nobody really stands out except for Townsend as Dorian Grey, channeling “Project Runway” a bit too much. Wilson, so good in the “La Femme Nikita” TV series, has plenty of screen presence but it’s not really channeled well, more the fault of the filmmakers than the actress.

Does it measure up to its source comic? Depends on what you mean. And it shouldn’t have to. Comparing a movie to a comic is like comparing a car to a plane. They are different media with different qualities. The comic book League is one of the best (IMHO) ever, and the film wisely departs from its storyline. Why compete with greatness when you can, perhaps, establish your own?  Of course, the movie doesn’t really establish greatness but it does try. Seeing all these beloved fictional characters together is a hoot, but ultimately is disappointing; you don’t get the sense of epic adventure their original tales gave us.

The movie actually did better in the global market than it did here in America. Although room is left at the end for a sequel, you will never see one. Moore has divorced himself completely from the movie, which in all fairness, he has pretty much done with every movie made on his source material. Still, it’s a wonderful concept, and the atmosphere combined with Connery as an adventure hero is enough to make this a movie worth seeing – especially inasmuch as this is, in all likelihood, Connery’s final film.

WHY RENT THIS: What is in all likelihood Connery’s final film performance is delivered with all the fire and charisma of all his previous ones. Fascinating concept. A kick to see all those beloved fictional heroes together.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Lacks the epic spirit of adventure of the source. A bit silly in places.

FAMILY MATTERS: There’s plenty of action violence, a few bad words scattered here and there and a bit of sexual innuendo.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: This was one of the first five movies to be released on Blu-Ray by Fox.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $179.3M on a $78M production budget; despite the perception that this was a flop,it actually made a slight profit.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Ice Age: Continental Drift

Sanctum


Sanctum

Richard Roxburgh is taking his toys and going home.

(2011) Adventure (Universal) Richard Roxburgh, Rhys Wakefield, Ioan Gruffudd, Alice Parkinson, Dan Wylie, Christopher Baker, Nicole Downs, Allison Cratchley, Cramer Cain, Andrew Hansen, John Garvin. Directed by Alister Grierson

The exploration of caves is one of the last great adventures left to us on Earth. Most of the planet has been completely mapped and has been seen by human eyes. It is only when we go belowground that the exploration really begins…as well as the danger. 

Josh (Wakefield) is the son of noted cave explorer Frank (Roxburgh) who doesn’t share his father’s enthusiasms. He is constantly in his father’s doghouse, forced to spend summers with him that he’d rather spend doing anything else but. Frank, for his part, pushes Josh mercilessly, expecting far more than Josh is willing to give.

Frank is exploring a cave in Papua New Guinea’s Esa Ala cave system, one of the largest in the world. Josh has gone to pick up Carl (Gruffudd), a nascent caver himself who is funding the expedition. Carl has brought along his girlfriend Victoria (Parkinson) who has almost no caving experience. Josh escorts them to the massive cave opening and leads them down, although Type A personality Carl prefers jump off the edge and ride his parachute down.

In the meantime Josh’s forgetfulness about bringing down the spare air tanks has led to a terrible mishap in the caves. It becomes a heated argument between Josh and Frank and Josh prepares to leave. However a sudden storm turns into a cyclone, causing the cave to flood, leaving their only way out cut off. With the water level rising, Frank, Josh, Carl, Victoria as well as members of Frank’s support team Luku (Cain) and Crazy George (Wylie) must figure a way out of the caves before they all drown.

This was shot in 3D and to be honest, I’m not sure it really needed it. Much of the movie has little or no foreground to speak of, causing the director to have to use creative ways of framing the action in order to generate the 3D imagery. As a result, the movie has a curious lack of depth considering that it’s filmed in 3D (utilizing the same camera technology that executive producer James Cameron used for Avatar). It is also made darker because of the polarized glasses needed to view the 3D and quite frankly, the movie is dark enough to begin with. Some movies lend themselves to the 3D visual experience and some don’t and to my mind, this was one of the latter sort.

The actors are mainly not well known in these parts, although Gruffudd did get some notoriety as Reed Richards in the Fantastic Four movies. Most of the rest of the cast is Australian (much of the movie was filmed there) and for the most part do credible jobs. Roxburgh is the main eventer here, gruff and hard as nails, particularly on his son. The dynamic between Josh and Frank is at the emotional center of the movie, and if it doesn’t work, neither does the movie.

Fortunately for the filmmakers, that dynamic does work and is one of the things about the movie you come away with. That, the breathtaking visuals of the caves which are partially location shots, some sets and some CGI. The scenes are appropriately claustrophobic where they need to be, and grand vistas where they need to be. This makes for an excellent setting for the adventure.

The critics have been pretty rough on the movie and I can see some of their points although I do think they were being a little bit harsh overall. The general consensus is that this is Ten Little Indians in a cave and to my view that’s lazy writing – most survival movies, regardless of location, have that element to them as characters get picked off one by one by the elements or whatever disaster they’re dealing with. The killing off of characters gives you a sense of the danger that they’re in; without it, that sense of impending danger isn’t there and you don’t feel any sense of fear for your characters and your emotional investment in the movie then goes spiraling down the drain.

In the end, this is a fairly pedestrian adventure movie with some nice visuals that would have been nicer if they hadn’t been further darkened by 3D. Also, the language is a bit on the foul side to the point that the movie got an “R” rating here in the states, a rating that it didn’t really warrant considering there was little violence, not much gore and no sex. However, if you’re looking for a bit of fun and an escape from the ordinary, you could do much, much worse.

REASONS TO GO: Some stunning cave photography. Some of the perils are quite well done.

REASONS TO STAY: Script a little hackneyed. Language should have been cleaned up.  

FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of coarse language, a bit of violence and several images that might be disturbing to the sensitive.  

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film bills itself as being based on actual events; co-writer Andrew Wright had a similar situation in which a cave he and 14 others were exploring had the entrance collapse, forcing them to find another way out.

HOME OR THEATER: Although some of the film is claustrophobic by its very nature, the magnificent caverns should be seen on a big screen.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Company Men

New Releases for the Week of February 4, 2011


February 4, 2011
Caves are cool.

SANCTUM

(Universal) Richard Roxburgh, Rhys Wakefield, Ioan Gruffudd, Alice Parkinson, Dan Wyllie, Christopher Baker, Nicole Downs, Allison Cratchley. Directed by Alister Grierson

A group of cave explorers find themselves in a desperate situation when the unexplored cave they are working in is flooded during a cyclone, trapping them in the cave. They must face rising waters, torrential flooding and their own panic as they fight for survival and try to find a way out. Producer James Cameron gave the filmmakers his 3D camera system that was used in the making of Avatar.

See the trailer, interviews and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D and IMAX 3D

Genre: Action Adventure

Rating: R (for language, some violence and disturbing images)

The Roommate

(Screen Gems) Leighton Meester, Minka Kelly, Cam Gigandet, Billy Zane. A college freshman develops an unhealthy obsession with her roommate. As she becomes more frantic in her need for acceptance by the object of her attention, those who she perceives as threats begin to meet with untimely ends.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Thriller

Rating: PG-13 (for violence and menace, sexual content, some language and teen partying)

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole


Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole

Half the way there.

(Warner Brothers) Starring the voices of Jim Sturgess, Emily Barclay, David Wenham, Anthony LaPaglia, Miriam Margolyes, Helen Mirren, Joel Edgerton, Geoffrey Rush, Ryan Kwanten, Richard Roxburgh, Hugo Weaving, Barry Otto, Leigh Whannell, Sam Neill, Adrienne DeFaria, Abbie Cornish. Directed by Zack Snyder

As CGI animated features have become more sophisticated, they have begun to attract big-name live action directors. Snyder, who arguably has plenty of CGI experience with his previous two features 300 and Watchmen goes all the way with this adaptation of the first three of Kathryn Lasky’s series of novels for young adults, The Guardians of Ga’Hoole.

Young Soren (Sturgess) is entranced by the stories of the mythic Guardians of Ga’Hoole told by his dad Noctus (Weaving); the Guardians are a group of owls who live far, far away who come when owlkind is threatened – did I mention Soren is a barn owl? – and aid the weak against the strong. Soren even has his own hero, Lyze of Kiel, who defeated the evil leader of the Pure Ones in the Battle of the Ice Claw and disfigured him, forcing him to wear a metal helmet to hide his disfigurements.

His sister Eglantine (DeFaria) shares in his rapt adoration of the Guardians stories but his brother Kludd (Kwanten) is less impressed. He is in fact quite jealous of the attention Soren gets from his father, and is constantly falling short of Soren’s accomplishments.

The two go out to practice branching, a practice in which young owls glide from branch to branch in the large tree that they live in as a preface to learning how to fly for real. However, an angry Kludd knocks over Soren when he is attempting to leap off a branch, causing Kludd to lose his balance as well and the two brothers wind up on the ground, not the place they want to be.

It isn’t long before the two find out why their father warned them about the ground; they are attacked by a large rodent-like creature and it looks like one or both of them are destined to be rodent dinner until they are saved by a pair of strange owls who take them far away, to St. Aegolius, an aerie inhabited by the Pure Ones. Nyra (Mirren), the mate of Metalbeak (Whannell) who still lives, informs them that they’ve been abandoned by their families and are now part of the Tyto family – their word for Pure Ones. The strong will be Tyto warriors; the weak will be Pickers. When Soren speaks up to defend Gylfie (Barclay), an elf owl that Soren befriended on the journey to St. Aegolius, he and Gylfie are relegated with most of the others to being Pickers. Soren calls out to Kludd but Kludd denies him, and joins the Tytos.

The rest are led outside and made to sleep under the glare of the full moon, which Gylfie informs Soren will lead to a zombie-like state in which they’ll become pliable and docile. Soren means to resist the effect by staying awake the night, which he and Gylfie do. They discover the next morning that their work will involve sifting through owl pellets, the regurgitated remains of the mice and other animals that owls eat, to find a small metallic bit called a fleck, which the Pure Ones are using to create a weapon that creates a magnetic field that disorients owls. They use bats to actually handle the flecks as bats are immune to the effect.

Soren and Gylfie make plans to escape but before they do they are taken aside by Grimble (also Weaving), the Pure One who had kidnapped Gylfie. Once safe in his library, he tells them he’s been waiting for someone who would stand up to the other Pure Ones and avoid being moon-blinked; he would have left long ago if his family wasn’t being held hostage. He tries to teach them how to fly so they can escape and warn the Guardians, but they are interrupted by the arrival of Nyra, Kludd and a group of Tyto warriors. Grimble tries to hold them off to buy the two some time to escape; Soren hesitates and calls again to Kludd but it is clear that Kludd has become one of the Tytos and he again denies Soren. The two, forced to flee, barely manage to escape but Grimble dies defending them.

Exhausted, they look for a place to rest and meet Digger (Wenham), a somewhat eccentric burrowing owl and his friend Twilight (LaPaglia), a great grey owl who fancies himself a warrior bard, although his poetry leaves something to be desired. Hearing that Soren and Gylfie are off to find the Guardians, they offer to go with them on the adventure, Twilight knowing where the Sea of Hoolemere is, which is where the Island of Ga’Hoole resides. Twilight has also captured Mrs. Plithever (Margolyes), the snake that acted as nanny to Soren, Kludd and Eglantine, ostensibly as dinner but now they have a fifth companion.

On the way there, they discover an Echidna (Otto), a mystic who knows more about their journey than they let on. While flying through a raging ice storm, they are discovered by two guardians – one of whom happens to be King Boron (Roxburgh) – and escorted back to Ga’Hoole. There their story is heard, disbelieved by Allomere (Neill), one of their trusted advisors, but believed by Ezylryb (Rush), who is very eccentric but also an advisor. Boron decides to send Allomere to scout out the situation.

Eventually he returns, having barely returned alive but with two young owlets that have been moon-blinked, one of whom is Eglantine, who was led to it by her own brother. As the guardians gird for war, they have no way of knowing that they will be betrayed by someone close to them and that a hero will rise from the least likely among them. But will it be enough to overcome the numerical superiority of the Pure Ones, or evade the trap that is being laid for them?

The first thing you need to know about this movie is that the animation is absolutely superb. The owls look real, and the backgrounds are spectacular. An owl civilization is created that looks not unlike the elf civilization of Lord of the Rings. The owls are given human characteristics and each one is easily distinguishable from the others. Considering that in the past all owls looked pretty much alike to me, that’s no mean feat. Kudos must be given to Animal Logic, the Aussie firm that did most of the animation. Work like this will put them in the league of Pixar before too very long, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this winds up nominated for a Best Animated Feature Oscar come February.

This is certainly a work of fantasy, and it borrows heavily from all sorts of genres, from the high fantasy of the aforementioned Lord of the Rings to the Star Wars saga and even bits of the Indiana Jones adventures. The Pure Ones have been compared to the Nazis and while in some ways that comparison is dead on, I would also liken them to the Kali cult of India as depicted in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

While the Aussie accents are occasionally thick enough that some of the small tykes around me were repeatedly asking their parents what was just said, the voice acting is top notch here, particularly Sturgess (whose star is rising these days) as the heroic Soren, Wenham as the loopy Digger, LaPaglia as the unctuous Twilight and Mirren as the imperious Nyra.

The main complaint I have about the movie is that it seemed to be cramming a whole lot of story into the 90 minute runtime. At times the pacing seems a little rushed, which gave short shrift to some of the characters and story points. However, that’s a fairly minor sin when compared with all the positives the movie had going for it.

Another aside; the music here is wonderful, and they made effective use of Dead Can Dance’s “The Host of Seraphim” during the climactic battle scene. That happens to be one of my favorite songs, and it is so cinematic in tone that I have often wondered why it hadn’t been used in a movie until now. Dead Can Dance singer Lisa Gerrard’s voice is used on two occasions in the movie (once from one of her solo albums) and it enhances the movie’s mythic quality.

In fact, that is one of the things I liked the most about the movie, and the word “mythic” sums it up well. Lasky created a credible owl mythology, as credible as any of the fantasy worlds you would find in adult fantasy (I’m talking George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice, Piers Anthony’s Xanth and Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time so get your mind out of the gutter, it’s crowding me) and it translates nicely to the screen. I found it easy enough to follow, and it gives the movie an epic scope.

Perhaps because the movie is something of a hybrid, or perhaps people just aren’t plain interested in seeing owls as lead characters, the movie has underperformed at the box office thus far, although good word of mouth may eventually wind up saving it. I hope so, because it is clearly one of the class of the field of this year’s animated movies, clearly as good as How to Train a Dragon or Despicable Me, both of which did far better at the box office than this one has thus far. Even if you don’t have kids who want to see it, I urge you to go anyway; there’s plenty there to delight adults and if you like some of the aforementioned influences, you will love this as much as I did.

REASONS TO GO: The animation is phenomenal, up there with Pixar’s best work. The storyline is easy to follow, and along the lines of great fantasy works as Lord of the Rings.

REASONS TO STAY: Sometimes the pace seems a bit too hurried, as if the filmmakers were trying to cram too much in to the time kids would be likely to sit still for.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some scenes of brutality that might be too much for the very young, but otherwise okay for most family audiences.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first film directed by Zack Snyder not to be rated R. This is also the first film Snyder directed not to debut in the number one position in the box office rankings.

HOME OR THEATER: Absolutely this should be seen in a theater; the breathtaking animation is worth it, and I would also recommend that you shell out the extra few bucks for 3D as well.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: City of God