Saturday, July 3, 2010

Beowulf (2007)

"Starring" Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins, Robin Wright-Penn, Crispin Glover, Angelina Jolie, John Malkovich
Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Action / Fantasy
Rated PG-13: Violent Action Sequences, Frightening Images, Some Sensuality

In case you don't know, this movie was filmed with motion capture performance, which can render some highly realistic material, but can also make simple actions look rather unnatural. This uncanny valley effect is evident from the start. Of course, it generally isn't a good idea to start off a movie by focusing on a fat, naked old drunkard King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins) having a frat party with his subjects in a mead hall. The monstrous Grendel (Crispin Glover) soon attacks the mead hall and manages to outdo the naked guy for repulsiveness as he is depicted as a ten-foot tall zombie who likes to cut himself, as we are shown in gruesome detail, which is only offset by his cartoonish “Popeye” jaw.

"I yam what I yam."

Grendel's introduction is done in the dark with a blue flame producing a strange strobe light that causes the camera to shot things in slow motion bullet time, sort of like The Matrix Reloaded meets 300. Shortly afterward we meet Beowulf (Ray Winstone) and its rather obvious that the crew spent the most of their time and money on rendering him as well as Grendel’s mother, as they are the two that look the least mechanical. Embarassingly Beowulf’s goatee is only bit of facial hair that doesn’t look like it was borrowed from Spongebob Squarepants' Patchy the Pirate. There are lot of effects like spears and arrows that are pointed at the viewer for 3D effect, but seem quite distracting on a 2D screen. Beowulf and Hrothgar talk about killing the monster and the weakness of a dragon is discussed to set up the climax later on as well as to set up that Beowulf has a thing for Hrothgar's wife, Wealthow (Robin Wright-Penn) Beowulf manages to defeat Grendel in Austin Power's favorite game of "hide the sausage", which leads Beowulf up to the mountains to hunt and slay Grendel's mother (Angelina Jolie)

This sets up Angelina's much promoted nude scene, which is something of a gross exaggeration, since she isn't naked, but covered in form fitting golden goo. This is supposed to be titalating, but I must say that didn’t impact me. Not because of Angelina’s CG patootie, but was puzzled by why she would wear stilettos in a cave. Not to mention the odd scene were she circles around Beowulf like shes on some sort of turntable and tries to seduce Beowulf into given her a son in exchange for making him a indestructible king.

Now I haven’t read the epic poem that this movie is "based" on, but it seems to me like they’re trying to make him more of a tragic hero by adding this “Faust” element, but I’m not buying it. King Lardtub was father to Grendel and now Beowulf is made king and becomes father to another monster, so it seems that no one ever learns from their mistakes. Beowulf doesn’t seem to show much in the way of regret or concern for his past, especially after he takes Wealthow for his own wife and later a mistress when he learns he cannot have heirs as a result of sleeping with Grendel's mother.

I'm awakened from my stupor by a cool action scene in the end with Beowulf fighting a dragon. This fight scene uses the CG technology to its fullest and is easily the best part of the movie, but ends on a sour note when Beowulf dies defeating the creature (who is really his son) and it is implied that Beowulf’s friend may be next in line for fathering another monster, so what’s the whole point?

It seems the intent of this movie was to make animation appealing for an older, more mature audience. Unfortunately, they did so my trying to appeal to adrenaline starved, hormonal teenagers and frat boys who would likely laugh it up at the film's rather crass sense of humor and be easily amused by the film's animation. The final rendering can look breathtaking for a few seconds, especially in establishing shots, but only for a second as the realism fades away shortly as a result of the Uncanny Valley effect. The background figures either look corse-like or like the actor's face was plastered on to an extra left over from "Shrek". While the climax is exciting, theres just too much junk to wade through to get to anything remotely satisfying.

Final Score:

Two out of Five. The pixelited equivalent of a stale candy bar.

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