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Movie Review: Beowulf

Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Written by Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary based on the epic poem written anonymously

Peter Jackson pushed the future closer with Gollum in Lord of the Rings, and then Robert Zemeckis went further with The Polar Express, in using motion-capture CGI technology that basically says, “We want this particular person’s acting, and then we can make them appear however we want onscreen.” This raises some questions, I suppose, that could lead all the way to God and the universe if you let it, but there’s no doubt that we could have movies being performed by people whose forte is to perform, not just look good on camera.

And we have this pretty much in Beowulf, where Ray Winstone (best-known as Jack Nicholson’s right-hand man in The Departed) gets turned into the titular super-buff warrior who sails over to a town to defeat their monster Grendel (Crispin Glover). After a terrifying massacre in their public hall made for drinking and screwing, King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins) offers a handsome reward for anyone who can end Grendel’s life. Beowulf comes to town leading a small band of warriors (and what sword epic would be complete without Brendan Gleeson?), boasting (and not afraid to stretch the truth) of past adventures, falling in love with Hrothgar’s young wife Wealthow (Robin Wright Penn), and raising criticism from Hrothgar’s supposed next-in-line Unferth (John Malkovich).

Beowulf, as expected, is able to defeat Grendel, but his true test has yet to come. His weakness being seduction and vanity, he has to face off against the beautiful creature that is Grendel’s mother (Angelina Jolie). The decisions he makes here will affect the rest of his life, and of what will become of his kingdom, and he finds his life has strong parallels to even the foolish old Hrothgar.

The animation is amazing and so are the battle scenes, and there’s a pretty good story to boot, but this probably really shines in IMAX 3D, of which I was unable to see for this review. But even if you don’t see it in 3D, it’s still an overall good experience. I like the idea of a story telling of a legend that is cognizant of the nature of legends, how the truth is distorted over time to the point of exaggeration; if anything Zemeckis could have explored this even more for more fun.

I have a feeling Beowulf is only our first-generation look into what is later to come, but it’s yet another step towards progress, or the apocalypse. I’m not sure.


Comment from Doc
Time: November 16, 2007, 2:56 pm

I hear the technology has progressed impressively since “Polar Express”, but I would think this film could be more effective in a live action treatment, even if they did a “300″ type of thing. Regardless, I don’t like how technology is readily available to replace actors. James Cameron made fun of this on an episode of “Entourage”, in which he joked with one of the characters that “…pretty soon, I won’t have to deal with actors.” Performances bathed in constant CGI is an interesting and somwhat disturbing thought.

On the other hand, I really want to see this film in IMAX 3D.

Comment from The Projectionist
Time: November 16, 2007, 4:03 pm

Here’s the thing: while it’s great that Zemeckis wants to make movies that are best seen in a theatre, it certainly puts a strain on the movie’s ability to gain a following on video. Even in our age of high-def and so forth, the experience of a movie coming right at you in a theatre will still lose a bit in translation. But, I guess that’s a small consideration, really.

Comment from KW
Time: November 19, 2007, 4:42 pm

Well, on one hand I want so desperately to see a big-budget, live action Beowulf. That is a movie that needs to be made.

But then I tell myself that, with the creature and the battles…it would be CGI-heavy anyway…so what’s the difference, really?

I mean, who among us can watch any of the great battle scenes in the Lord of the Rings trilogy and claim that they didn’t just see almost exactly this sort of thing?

So what I’m saying is…I’m glad you liked it, and and now I have to go watch it.

Comment from mike
Time: November 22, 2007, 6:56 pm

the move is gay!!!

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