November 26, 2007

REVIEW: Beowulf - 3D (B-)

Background: The latest adaptation of the English legend of the Danish warrior Beowulf is the second film done using motion-capture ("mo-cap") technology, the first being The Polar Express. The actors - Ray Winstone (The Departed, Breaking and Entering), Anthony Hopkins (The World's Fastest Indian), John Malkovich (Being John Malkovich), Robin Wright Penn (Breaking and Entering), and Angelina Jolie (A Mighty Heart) - wore skintight suits with hundreds of sensors on their face and body while filming. Beowulf was directed by Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future trilogy, Forrest Gump, and The Polar Express), who is deservedly regarded as a master of visual effects, and is the only director who has used mocap. There are two versions of Beowulf in current release, but if you're going to go you might as well see the 3D version - yep, you have to wear those awesome-looking glasses.

Synopsis: Hrothgar (Hopkins) is king of a mountainous medieval Danish village. Helpless in stopping the devilish monster Grendel (Crispin Glover - yes, George McFly) that is terrorizing his town, he sends out word that the slayer of the monster will receive a rich bounty of gold. Beowulf (Winstone) shows up and talks a good game, in the process wooing Hrothgar's lonely wife Wealthow (Penn) and irritating town spokesman Unferth (Malkovich). Grendel soon arrives and Beowulf tears off his arm, a fatal wound that Grendel succumbs to in his home cave under the mourning eye of his mother, the nude water demon (Jolie). By this time we've figured out that Hrothgar was seduced by Grendel's mother, and thus Grendel was his son. Of course Beowulf doesn't know this, so he is oblivious when Hrothgar tells him to go kill her as well. Not surprisingly, Beowulf falls under her spell, but returns to the village claiming he has rid the village of her curse forever. Hrothgar sees through the lie and crowns Beowful king before throwing himself off the castle tower. Years later, Beowulf's illegitimate son, who is a dragon, predictably returns to wreak havoc on the village. A long chase and battle scene ensues before Beowulf rips out the dragon's heart. To do so, however, he has to cut off his arm, and consequently dies a martyr. We're left with Beowulf's right-hand man, Wiglaf (Brendan Gleeson from Harry Potter...), facing the temptation of the water demon once again.

I Loved:
+ The animation - the detail was dazzling.

I Liked:
+ The 3D gimmick - it didn't always work, but it was kind of cool and helped draw you further into the movie.

I Disliked:
- Robin Wright Penn's face - it looked porcelain.
- Angelina Jolie's voice - creepy, not seductive.
- The cloudy ending.

I Hated:
- Grendel, one of the most disgusting creatures I've seen in a while.

Writing - 7
Acting - N/A
Production - 10
Emotional Impact - 8
Music - 5
Significance - 3

Total: 32/40= 80% = B-

Last Word: I haven't read the legend of Beowulf, but I can't imagine it's much more vivid than the film. That being said, I've heard that it also isn't faithful to the story. Most obviously, I would expect Beowulf to actual kill Grendel's mother. If not, what has he accomplished? Call me crazy, but doesn't the point of the story hinge on that simple fact? Otherwise the cycle just continues, and Beowulf is one in a hundred weak-willed men. I have a hunch that I missed something and she actually was killed, but it wasn't obvious to me. Somebody fill me in, please. That plot point aside, the animation in Beowulf is certainly eye-popping, even if you don't see the 3-D version. Robert Zemeckis is creating a brave new world of filmmaking with these mocap movies - literally half live action, half animation - and nothing else looks like it. Was Beowulf the best story to bring to life using mocap? I don't know, I guess you couldn't really do Grendel without it, but otherwise it didn't seem necessary. Fans of legendary fantasies or experimental animation will enjoy Beowulf, but I can't recommend it as a great example of storytelling, as it lacks substance behind all of the slickness.

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