Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole Release Date: December 17, 2010 Studio: Warner Home Video Packaging/Materials: Two-disc Blu-ray "ECO-BOX" with slipcover Year: 2010 Rating: PG Running Time: 1:37:00 MSRP: $35.99 THE FEATURE SPECIAL FEATURES Video 1080p high definition 16x9 2.40:1 High definition Audio DTS-HD Master Audio: English 5.1 / Dolby Digital: French 5.1 Spanish 5.1, Portuguese 5.1 Variable Subtitles English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Variable The Feature: 4/5 Owlets and brothers Soren (Jim Sturgess) and Kludd (Ryan Kwanten) - still learning how to fly and fend for themselves - are kidnapped one night by a band of militaristic owls calling themselves "The Pure Ones." Lead by the battle-scarred Metalbeak (Joel Edgerton) and his charismatic mate Nyra (Helen Mirren), the Pure Ones have a vision of the future that ends in their dominion over all other owl species. Their plans begin with the forced conscription of owlets as soldiers and workers in their war machine, but their ultimate weapon involves a powerful and mysterious material they call "flecks," which have an unsettling effect on birds of all species. While Soren wants no part of the Pure Ones - who are clearly the antithesis of the Guardians, legendary owl warriors he idolizes - his impressionable brother is tempted and ultimately seduced by their attention and promise of power. When Soren eventually escapes Metalbeak's stronghold to go in search of the Guardians, Kludd stays behind - and even fights against his own brother - effectively betraying his blood ties for what he sees as his real family. Though the Guardians may prove to be more than legend and ultimately able to stop the Pure Ones' rise to power, saving and redeeming Kludd may be a task only Soren can accomplish. Based on a popular young adult book series by Kathryn Lasky, "Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole" treads a familiar path filled with the usual mythic archetypes but does it well with only a few missteps. The biggest is undoubtedly the "fall of Kludd," a character arc that never has the foundation it needs to be convincing. Viewers are left scratching their heads over why an owlet who seemed loved by his family and mostly suffering from teen angst, would go so far down the road of betrayal and moral corruption. Consequently, Soren and Kludd's big confrontation just seems manufactured for drama, rather than growing organically from what we know and understand about each character. And lest we think such things would be lost on younger viewers, I can easily see a child putting it in terms like, "Why was Kludd so bad?" Unfortunately, the answer is, "We don't know." - and not because the sad reality is that sometimes people just do bad things. In this case, the filmmakers didn't do a good job of explaining it. The other distraction is stylistic. Director Zack Snyder continues to make slow motion a major component of his visual aesthetic, but while it worked in melodramatic pieces like "300" and "Watchmen," that extra helping of gravitas comes off pretty goofy when dealing with anthropomorphic, computer animated owls. With the battle scenes it's kind of forgivable, and could be considered somewhat functional in nature, but one scene in particular - a secret meeting that ends with a dramatic exit - is downright laughable. Some of that over-serious tone came through in the theatrical trailer, which definitely made me write it off despite knowing who was involved in the project. Fortunately there's only a handful of such awkward moments and what ultimately dominates the film are universal messages encouraging bravery, honor and love - making it a great movie to watch with family. With 15 books total in Lasky's series, and this film only covering books one to three, it seems there's plenty of material left for sequels. Box office returns also seem significant enough that "Legend of the Guardians" will likely be just the first of several Ga'Hoole sagas. Video Quality: 5/5 The film is accurately framed at 2.40:1 and presented in 1080p with the AVC codec. As we've come to expect from high resolution, computer animated productions, the image on Blu-ray looks flawless. Detail is exceptional with various feather and down textures, as well as shots of the star-filled night sky. Colors are deep and well saturated, black levels are inky and stable, and contrast displays the full range of values with no signs of compression. The image also shows no signs of excessive digital sharpening or noise reduction measures. The movie's release on Blu-ray includes both 2D and 3D versions. Given the 2D's impeccable presentation, I'm naturally curious how it holds up in 3D. The spectacular three-dimensional quality of the audio track, however, makes me even more intrigued about the 3D experience, more so with this than any other title so far. Audio Quality: 5/5 The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is a beauty, featuring seamless panning effects, effective directional cues, and a crisp, well-integrated center channel. LFE is also deep and clean, giving a nicely three-dimensional and dynamic track an impressive foundation. Scene highlights include Soren and Gylfie's escape, the rainstorm training, and the climactic owl battle, but what I found most memorable were the directional effects on the vocals. Used simply when characters move out of frame or circle each other - which happens fairly often given much of their time is spent in flight - the effect is wonderfully subtle but also remarkable for the sense of spatial depth it gives to the viewing. This is definitely one of the more impressive tracks I've heard this year. Special Features: 4/5 The picture-in-picture "Maximum Kid Mode" feature offers the most substantial behind-the-scenes content. Though it's aimed towards kids, adults should find plenty to appreciate as well. It's just unfortunate there's not a way to access the material outside of watching the entire feature. The rest of the extras are a bit more juvenile in tone, but also brief, which should go over well with all members of the household. The DVD and digital copy versions continue to be a nice convenience. True Guardians of the Earth (15:09, HD): Rico Rodriguez from "Modern Family" and Digger the Owl (David Wenham) explore various owl species and their characteristics. Maximum "Kid" Mode (1:47:11): Warner's "Maximum Movie Mode" feature gets juvenile, but only in concept. Covering major phases of the animation production process, the picture-in-picture content actually provides a very good overview of the animated fimmaking process, appealing for both children and adults alike. Of course there are diversions meant for the younger set - like quizzes about the types of owls represented by some of the characters - but they're pretty innocuous and brief. The branching video pieces - mostly involving information about owls and their behavior - adds about 10 minutes to the overall run time, but are still pretty interesting. Legend of the Guardians: Armor Up with Soren and Eglantine (HD): Dress Soren and Eglantine in matching outfits and get thematically appropriate encouragements. Match the Owl Treats (HD): A standard memory game involving owls' favorite treats, like spider, snails and lizards. Legend of the Guardians: Rise of the Guardians (2:12, HD): A brief telling of how the Guardians came to be. Looney Tunes: Fur of Flying (3:04, HD): Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner play their usual game in this new, computer-animated short. Artwork Galleries: Sized for viewing on high definition displays, the artwork consists of storyboards, concept sketches and full blown illustrations of the characters and their environments. Soren and Friends (45 images) Locations (20 images) Villains of St. Aegolius (17 images) Guardians (24 images) To the Sky Music Video (3:40, HD): In an arrangement that seems too on the nose, the film's pop theme song was written and performed by the band Owl City. DVD: Watch the feature presented in 2.40:1 anamorphic standard definition video and 384 kbps Dolby Digital 5.1 audio (English only). Subtitles in English SDH, French and Spanish. Digital Copy: Incorporated into the DVD "Combo Disc" and compatible with Mac and Windows. Offer expires December 15, 2011. BD-Live: At the time of review, there was no exclusive content related to the feature. Recap The Feature: 4/5 Video Quality: 5/5 Audio Quality: 5/5 Special Features: 4/5 Overall Score (not an average): 4/5 Warner Home Video turns in an impeccable audio and video presentation for an entertaining - but sometimes over-dramatic - family film based on a popular young adult book series. The extras, oriented more towards kids than adults, offers plentiful behind-the-scenes material, but with most of it tied up in the on-rails picture-in-picture feature, the release doesn't win points for content accessibility. Still, there's plenty in the both the feature and the release to enjoy for the whole family.