Zack Snyder: ‘Legend of the Guardians’ is an ‘Avatar’ for kids

Sept. 24, 2010 | 2:53 p.m.

The reviews have been mixed for “Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole,” which lands in theaters Friday, but there seems to be a consensus that the movie is breathtaking as far as its visual achievements. When it comes to flight, fire, fighting, fluidity and feathers, the animated 3-D movie can be positively startling in its lush visions.

Director Zack Snyder, who has shown a flair for both majesty and mayhem in films including “300” and “Watchmen,”  chuckled when asked about the feedback he’s gotten on the imagery. “When we did a screening for the genre-press kids and one of them said, ‘At what point did you decide to make each frame like a painting?’ I had to laugh, I mean, that’s kind of how you’re supposed to do it.  It’s not like we consciously thought, ‘This shot should look good.’”

Warner Bros. has turned to the affable 44-year-old Snyder as one their go-to filmmakers — the studio has made a major investment in his less-than-conventional concept for next summer’s “Sucker Punch” and he is on the shortlist of directors being  considered for the Superman franchise revival —  but the director made his first foray into pure animation with “Guardians” and it took him into conflict at times with the studio executives and producers at Village Roadshow Pictures. Snyder resisted pressure to turn the film toward endearing charm and contrived moments of broad humor. “You can’t have someone in a ‘Lord of the Rings’-like story doing a fart joke,” Snyder said last week.  “It doesn’t work.”

Those same studio chiefs were taken aback, according to Snyder, when they saw the visual prowess of the finished film.

“It’s funny — I kept saying to the studio when we were in the process of making the movie: ‘Guys, you’re missing the point. This movie is going to look like ‘Avatar’ for kids. I honestly said to them, ‘This is ‘Avatar’ for kids as far as the look goes,’” Snyder said Thursday. “And then when they saw the movie, they were like, ‘Oh my God, it’s insane.’ The other thing you get when you see it, which you don’t get from the posters, is that it’s not an animated movie in the classic sense of what you would consider  an animated movie because of the depth and reality of the images and the way the owls are realistic.”

The movie is based on the books by author Kathryn Lasky, and while some executives fretted that Snyder took the film too far into grim or frightening territory, the director points out that he actually softened some key plot points from the prose version. In the books, for instance, it is revealed that the owlet Soren, the main character, is pushed out of safety in his home-tree by his brother Kludd, but Snyder switched it to a scenario where the two birds land on the forest floor through shared misadventure.

“We had to make a bunch of choices like that,” Snyder said. “Those are the kind of things we looked at. People say, ‘Oh, your movie is so dark’ and I say, ‘Well, we really toned it down, there are things we took out because it was just too dark.’”

– Geoff Boucher

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