Friday, November 16, 2007

Beowulf - mini-review

For the first time in my life I can honestly say I wish I had read Beowulf in college. It didn't actually appeal to me all that much back then, which is odd given my predilection for myths, legends and fairy tales (I guess it was a poetry issue). But having seen Robert Zemeckis's film version this afternoon, I feel as though I might have gotten more out of the movie if I hadn't had to struggle for the story amid the accents and the motion-capture facial expressions.

I liked this movie - I didn't love it. I had difficulty sympathizing with any of the characters. Beowulf is brave, yes, but he's a liar and a braggart and gets led around by his libido. The old king is just like the hero, only older and fatter and drunker. The young queen has neither power nor personality. Most of the other folks are interchangeable monster-fodder hidden under their helmets. I think the animation kept me from emotionally investing in the characters: unlike traditional animated movies (like Monsters, Inc. or The Incredibles) where it is clearly a cartoon, Beowulf had nearly photo-realistic moments that drew me in, only to be rudely jarred by the next scene that was less real. Also, there were many shots that had obviously been done for the 3D effect - a little more subtlety would have gone a long way.

I very much agree with Harry over at AICN that it is nice to have an adult story told in this format but I was definitely distracted by the actors' animation. (If you click through to Harry's rave review you can get a plot run-down as well.) The monsters were impressive, however. Grendel took turns breaking my heart with his physical torment and revolting me with his tormented physique. I was thankful that he only had a few lines because I couldn't understand word one of them, Crispin Glover's take on an ancient Danish accent, I suppose. And the dragon who fights Beowulf when he is an old king, well, the dragon is just magnificent. I'm a sucker for a good-looking dragon too.

I'm glad I went to see it in the theater - I can't imagine it'll translate to a little television screen all that well - and I am glad I saw it. It just doesn't hold a candle to 300 (which is funny because, according to imdb, Gerard Butler played Beowulf in a 2005 live action version).

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