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Jason Wallis A rare misstep for director Zack Snyder

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Jason Wallis

Posted: Saturday, October 2, 2010 12:00 am

Apologies to all for the once-again belated launch of the Battle Royale movie blog. I wish I had a great excuse, but the long and short of it is that I failed to understand the actual process of getting the front page up, causing an unfortunate delay. (I talk a big game, but in the end I’m just an idiot like everybody else.)

But all is well now, so I invite you to log on and join the fray. We’re starting off with a discussion of our favorite film scenes of all time — a great introductory topic, I think, and one that I have quite inexplicably neglected to tackle in all my years of writing this column. You’ll have to log on to see my personal picks, but suffice it to say that early Spielberg rules all.

On a completely different note, I would be remiss not to mention, for those who missed the news, that Quentin Tarantino’s longtime film editor, Sally Menke, died Tuesday at the age of 56. The cause of death had not yet been determined as of press time, but hours before her body was found, Menke was reportedly jogging near L.A.’s Griffith Park when temperatures were in excess of 115 degrees. Regardless of what exactly happened and why, the fact remains that we have lost one cinema’s most important and talented film editors.

Hopefully, Tarantino will find a suitable candidate to replace Menke as his most vital collaborator. Or, better yet, he could take a page from contemporaries like Robert Rodriguez and the Coen Bros., and start editing his own films. Either way, there’s no denying that Tarantino’s work will be dramatically impacted by this devastating turn of events, and all movie fans are worse off for her loss. Regardless of how you feel about Tarantino, it’s impossible to argue around Menke’s skills as an editor, or her lasting influence on the medium.

Now, jumping to something completely different yet again: Next week we’ll be looking at David Fincher’s “The Social Network.” I haven’t seen the film yet, but I’m calling it now: Fincher will finally take home the Oscar as best director (the movie itself will be a strong contender for best picture), and the film will approach or exceed the $200 million mark at the domestic box office. Early reviewers unanimously rave about it (nobody listens to Armond White and he’s leveling us anyway, so he doesn’t count), and I honestly can’t believe I’m this excited about seeing a movie about Facebook. Behold, the power of the auteur!

Might also look at “Let Me In,” a completely unnecessary remake of the Swedish vampire masterpiece “Let the Right One In.” I was ready to write this off as a waste of time, but incredibly strong early reviews and a reportedly award-worthy performance by young star Chloe Moretz (so good in the criminally under-rated “Kickass”) have me rethinking my position. Meantime, a few words on the new — and, sadly, disappointing — Zack Snyder film.

I take great pride in my ability to spot bright young directing talents who invariably go on to do great things, and with 2004’s “Dawn of the Dead” remake, Zack Snyder immediately shot to the top of my list of burgeoning visionaries to keep my eye on. He proved me right by following it up with the exhilarating “300,” and with “Watchmen,” he cemented his place as one of America’s most unique and dependable film artists. So, how do you top something like “Watchmen,” and really show everybody that you’re some kind of crazy cinematic super-genius? I’m not sure, but I’m confident that the answer is not “Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole.”

I’ve nothing against established, serious directors branching out into family films (Spike Jonze’s “Where the Wild Things Are” and Wes Anderson’s “The Fantastic Mr. Fox” both placed high on my Top 10 list last year), but when this kind of thing isn’t typically your forte, you’ve got to be careful in choosing your projects. Snyder is a visual prodigy, but even his considerable technique is not enough to overcome the weak material offered by the film’s screenplay. I don’t care if you reanimated John Ford and gave him a billion-dollar budget — if he was working with this kind of limp, lifeless, completely lackluster script, the result wouldn’t be any better than what Snyder has turned in. Regardless of visual engagement, an inert, by-the-numbers story will sink a plot-driven film every time (see: “Avatar”).

Adapted from the first three books in Kathryn Laski’s “Guardians of Ga’Hoole” series, the film tells the story of a young owl named Soren (voiced by Jim Sturgess, from “Across the Universe“ and “21”) who, together with his brother, Kludd (Ryan Kwanten, of HBO’s “True Blood”), is abducted by an army of vicious warrior owls led by the evil Nyra (Helen Mirren) and Metalbeak (Joel Edgerton). The evil owls apparently want to build a regiment of flightless young owls, train them over the course of a few days, and then use them as an integral part of their plan to take over the world. This plan also entails using a bunch of magic vomit-rocks (?!) to kill the Good Owls (led by Ezylryb, voiced by Geoffrey Rush in the film’s only truly accomplished voice work) and then… I don’t even know, man. And really, who cares?

The narrative is a sprawling mess, full of appeals to heroic platitudes and nakedly manufactured sentimentality. Visually, though, the film is more accomplished. I opted for the “regular” version over the 3D presentation, and in a traditional format, Snyder’s visuals pop with detail and refined textures. The two major battle sequences are quite something, offering engaging and coherent kinetics, and giving the movie a much-needed burst of life. Pity that they encompass only about 15 minutes of the movie’s 90-minute running length. The rest is a pretty dreary affair, too scary and violent for young children but too boring for older kids and adults. But no matter: Next year, Snyder’s “Sucker Punch” will rain down mayhem and awesomeness, and remind us all what the man is truly capable of.

Jason Wallis is a News-Sentinel copy editor. He can be reached at jasonwallis@comcast.net.

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