Beowulf

November 21, 2007

wintermovies_beowulfh2.jpg 

OUT NOW

Big nasty monsters chewing off heads and ripping bodies in half. Blood and drool dripping right into your left eye. A nigh-on naked Angelina Jolie. This is the 12A that is Beowulf, a rather scary, violent and bare-breasted adventure for the tweens, but a landmark in CGI filmmaking that must not be missed.

Based on the epic poem (one of the oldest surviving texts in English literature), this groundbreaking adaptation charts the rise and fall of a heroic Geat warrior who comes to a Danish city to fight monsters and stuff. To inherit the kingdom, Beowulf must slay Grendel, a nasty big so-and-so from the mountains who keeps crashing their parties and screaming at people before tearing them limb from limb. Easy peasy.

The source is a very well chosen one to pioneer motion capture technology with such gusto. The uber-realistic graphics are the result of modelling from the actual actors (a la FIFA football games), the only big alteration being Ray Winstone as Beowulf- they’ve helped him lose some weight and gain some height, understandably. It’s worth watching a production video on the internet or a film channel to see just how the impressive effect was acheived, and it has to be said that 3D is the only way to watch this film, so be careful not to turn up for a plain old 2D showing.       

That said, this is the kind of artsy-fartsy cleverness that could easily impede on the quality of the characters and drama, leaning solely on an exciting new concept and neglecting what really makes films great. Not so.

The script is meaty and laced with wit- it’s nice to see that penis jokes were even funny 2,000 years ago- and every character is lovingly detailed, helped immeasurably by the motion capture’s ability to translate the most subtle of facial expressions.

It’s very well cast, Anthony Hopkins revelling in the computer-generated shoes of madcap King Hrothgar and Ray Winstone eating up the screen as the fearless, ego-stroking hero. And as far as the sultry female characters go, never has a cartoon woman provoked as much in the trouser region since the Lara Croft games. Oh look, it IS Lara Croft! This humanity and depth certainly helps during the talky-talky soppy-soppy scenes, as thankfully the effect of these exchanges is not diminished in any way by the cloud of fakery that is animation. Much credit must go to Robert Zemeckis, who as a traditionally live-action director (as opposed to hiring a seasoned animator) applies appropriate layers of heart and soul necessary for connecting with an audience. Even the ugly bag of bones Grendel is sympathetically crafted and invokes plenty of Gollum-like pity. Well, from me anyway.       

There may be countless add-ons and innaccuracies as far as the original material goes, but it doesn’t matter. The essence of Beowulf’s proud warrior is intact, and it’s clear they’ve only wanted to take the character and scenario as a ruse for throwing style at the screen. The camera is always in the right place, every shot agonizingly detailed with the perfect colour, lighting and rolling bloodied corpses. The fight scenes are cheer and vomit-inducing in equal measure, and the 3D element is not wasted (in fact it’s often over-indulgent) as plenty of spit and bits of brain fly at your face.

Beowulf does exactly what it says on the tin. It’s a text-book epic heaving with the kind of rich escapism that brought Lord of the Rings to life, stunning photography and utterly original action direction from the off. 

As with Toy Story in 1995, you get the feeling that although the movie is an incredible acheivement, the new technology is still in its test-run stages, but as a warm-up it could have been a hell of a lot worse. The eclectic, ye-olde fantasy of the story is well suited to the animation process, together creating the mysterious feeling that you’ve never seen anything quite like this before. 

The trailers before the big feature suggest everyone in Hollywood is jumping on the 3D bandwagon (and hey, didn’t Robert Rodriguez get there first anyway?) with ineveitably varying results. Hopefully the motion capture brush won’t be tarnished as a cheap commercial gimmick before Beowulf has had its chance to shine.      

THE CRUNCH

4.5 / 5  sea monsters blinded           

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2 Responses to “Beowulf”

  1. Ben Travis said

    Very violent, very sexy, very un-12A.
    Still incredible. Film 10x better than I thought it would be. 3D made it a real experience. Brilliant fun.

  2. BAREwulf in 3D is BAREsick!

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