Beowulf (2007) movie poster

(2007) dir. Robert Zemeckis
viewed: 11/19/07 @ AMC Loews Metreon 16 with IMAX

This film has gotten a lot of press in regards to its production and presentation, fully animated via motion-capture, with hyper-realism as its goal, the film is also presented in the current height of digital 3-D presentation.  It’s the first of several films that will be hitting the screen in the next couple of years to use this new upgrade to a heightened sense of visual mesmerization.

An interesting choice, the oldest saga in Western literature, Beowulf, to get the highest of tech presentations.  I’d read it years ago, not in high school like so many, but nonetheless, there is nothing quite like seeing something visualized literally.  Not that it’s necessary, but it can be interesting.

The film experience is a vivid thrill ride of visual surprises early on.  Juxtapositions, sudden foregrounding of an image, depth of field with simple stones on a beach…digital artists showing off their stuff.  And it’s impressive,…visually.  Especially early on.  It uses a few of the classic “jabbing stuff at the audience” that the 3-D movies of the 1950’s were so campily famous for.  Maybe it’s just obligitory.

Unsurprisingly, as a film, it’s overall mediocrity eventually shows through all the shimmering visuals.  Not the the visuals are flawless.  Some figures are as stiff as something out of a Shrek film, dull-skinned, manequin-like figures with a rigidity and robot-ness.  The battle with Grendel, the mutant monster, at times actually takes on a Harryhausen-esque flair at one point, but for the most part, the faces carry better depth than one is typically used to in such films.

Animation, effects, are always evovling.  The latest in today’s digital technology will typically look dated within a handful of years.  Usually.  This being purely animated, but with a large effort of realism, maybe that won’t be nearly so true.  Hard to say.  I never did see director Robert Zemeckis’ The Polar Express (2004), his previous excursion into motion-capture animation, which was more criticized for its dead-eyed figures.  I guess this has been a step-up.

Not that anyone really expected this film to shed any light on the classic narrative, even with or maybe because writers Roger Avery and Neil Gaiman were behind the script, but it’s kind of a hard one to fathom.  There is this whole sort of anti-Christianity thing, the change over the world that Beowulf will bring greater sadness into men’s lives and less heroism.  And the man who sleeps with the witch begetting some great evil…well, that’s a little more traditional in its legacy, I guess.

Grendel is a strange thing.  Sad, pathetic, corpse-like, lonely.  Maybe if King Hrothgar had invited had invited him to all their mead-drinking parties he wouldn’t have felt so left out and angry.

There’s a little bit of Zach Snyder’s 300 (2006) here, visual spectacle.  Visual spectacle that requires spectacles, the modern 3-D kind.  But ultimately there isn’t a whole lot of depth to the myth or the myth-making, riding a line between a stab at realism and an envisioning of a fantasy and action adventure that perhaps has more to do with contemporary video games than to anything of the period from which it originally arose.

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