I have seen Robert Zemecki’s movie “Beowulf,” a motion-captured, computer-generated movie with Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins, and Angelina Jolie, et al, acting out the script by Neil Gaiman and Roger Avery based on the classic Old English epic tale, coincidentally also called “Beowulf” (after the video game). And I am here to declare my impressions for all to hear and take wisdom thereby, for mine is a tale of miraculous visions and a decent plot. Be wary, for there are surely spoilers within that will ensnare the untested moviegoer and drag him deep to a watery grave of ruined surprises.
Right off, you’ll notice — as so many Beowulf purists have — that the original epic has been changed. This version includes trailers.
The animation is, in many cases, absolutely stunning and I’ve heard that the 3D IMAX version, which I have not seen, is even better. (The fact that it was intended to be 3D explains why so many axes, arrows, fists, and body parts are flung directly at the screen; I had Three Stooges flashbacks of Moe throwing a pie at me on a sadly visible wire.) During closeups, or when only silent expressions are needed, the faces and bodies are outstanding. Very real, even better than real (especially in the case of Ray Winstone’s abs). It’s when the characters talk that something seems… off. Not the “dead eyes” seen in “Polar Express” that still haunt but something’s missing. Characters also look much better in darkness or subdued lighting. Bright — well, bright-ish — sunlight makes them look washed out. The attention to detail was amazing, though, I found myself counting freckles and moles.
I did think that Queen Wealtheow looked especially wooden, but then I remembered she was mo-capped from Robin Wright Penn who, while a fine actress, has a fairly limited supply of expressions herself. Well done, CG guys.
And they haven’t quite gotten the hang of flowing clothing yet, so everyone is wearing tight outfits close to the skin or clothes that look like plastic tubes. Very noticeable in distant shots, when everyone looks like a video game warrior or a Shrek townsperson.
But the landscapes, the wind and water, the inanimate objects, and the monsters are wonderfully done. Also, the animators have apparently been paying particular attention to breasts.
Kudos to the screenwriters and Zemeckis for keeping Heorot and the Danish mead hall suitably grim and desolate and not Hollywooding it up. This was not a fairy princess kind of kingdom.
If they were going to spend all that time and energy remastering Ray Winstone’s Beowulf to look like Sean Bean, why not just get Sean Bean?
While I do not advocate violent dismemberment as a general rule, I do sympathize with Grendel regarding the mead hall partying. Many’s the time I myself have considered leaping over to my neighbor’s house at 2 a.m. on a Saturday night and rending him and his merry-making guests limb from bloody limb just to receive blessed surcease from yet another full-volume rendition of “Crank That.”
The monster Grendel is fun to watch and a reason to see the movie all by himself. Where else can you see a hideously disfigured Crispin Glover perform a drawn out death scene while gibbering in Old English?
Wait a minute, that might be a trick question.
Interesting watching Beowulf go all Spider-Man on the monster. But if they wanted to make him naked — the original just had him stripping off his armor, not his skivvies — they should have gone ahead and shown his stuff. The constant need to cover him was way too cutesy and Austin Powerish; I kept waiting for one of the Geat warriors to thrust out a convenient bundle of flowers.
I love the constant boasting. “I AM BEOWULF!” This tale clearly demonstrates that grandstanding for the paparazzi is not the new invention of drunken starlets and pants-forgetting pop stars.
Hmm. Maybe the pants-forgetting part is required, I’ll have to ask a historian. I wonder if Britney was on her way to slay a demon that night?
I think we should bring back public boasting. And the long names. They bring an air of dignity and majesty to life, something that is sorely missed. “This radiator, accursed by the gods though it is, will be given new life by the morrow’s first light, else I die! I, Rodney, son of Mick the Merciless, son of Nathan Beerkiller, tireless slayer of engine knock and mighty rebuilder of carbuerators, have sworn it, by Odin’s beard!”
That’s another thing we’ve lost: creative cursing. No one puts any thought into their cursing anymore. Next time your ex-boyfriend shows up to borrow money, again, curse that thieving wastrel to the lowest circle of pitiless hell where famed Heimdall himself, he who never sleeps and can see a leaf falling on the other end of the world, couldn’t find him with a map and two guesses. Then slam the door on him.
Loved John Malkovich’s Unferth. Pure, distilled sarcasm in human form. You just know if this was a Disney movie his crippled and much-kicked manservant ultimately would find the inner strength and courage to rise up and become his own man, earning Unferth’s grudging respect by the end of the movie, possibly with his own catchy song. This is not a Disney movie.
Ah, Angelina Jolie, the star of this picture no matter what the credits say. Golden and nude and more evil-looking than usual. I assume other things were on the screen when she was but someone will have to fill me in, I was busy watching gold drip. You just know the CG guys spent a lot of time getting this sequence j-u-u-u-u-u-st right. They don’t get out much, these CG guys.
While I was watching her stalk and seduce Beowulf with promises of glorious sex and eternal fame, I had one overriding thought: Is this what happened with Brad Pitt?
And what is it with her wanting more babies all the time?
You know, she looked more like a Barbie than an actual nekkid woman. Maybe all the creative hiding was to conceal the fact Beowulf was built like a Ken doll. It would explain the violence, and the need for overcompensation. “I AM BEOWULF!”
Yes, the plot was changed. Fortunately only the people who read the original all the way to the end will notice, and that’s, what, 20? 30 people, tops? Get over it, people. It happens in movies. I had to adjust to the Joker killing Michael Keaton’s parents and Quasimodo getting a happy ending, you can deal with this.
I wonder how many high school Beowulf essays will forever after focus on how Grendel’s mom was a babe.
Dragon fight. Got to have a dragon fight. The lack of a dragon fight is why “Lions for Lambs” tanked.
One possible problem with the movie: you don’t leave in a good mood. The ending is dramatic, and tragic, and will leave you wondering what happened next. Not the sort of thing to make you want to go right back in. My sons and I found ourselves screaming “I AM BEOWULF!” a lot, though, which startled a few people in the parking lot at Steak N Shake. It was oddly satisfying.
Although I will need to see it again, just to catch the parts I missed when Angelina Jolie was onscreen.
“I AM BEOWULF!”