|By Zach Patterson||Friday, 23 Nov 2007|
Robert Zemeckis’ Beowulf is the latest attempt to adapt the age old poem to the big screen. There’s probably been a half dozen attempts to adapt the source material, but this one by far has gotten the most exposure and attention in the press, largely because of the fact that the movie is computer generated. It’s interesting that more non-children movies haven’t attempted to be entirely CG, and it’s perhaps an easy attention getter for Beowulf since CG has largely been bound to your typical Pixar fare. Adding to the visual “wow” factor is that this movie is appearing in IMAX and as a 3D film. It might be the fact that I just had bad seats, but the effects varied between really cool (fight scenes with two planes, like the floor and rafters) and extremely tacky (blood flying at the screen). Also, the effects didn’t always look perfect, and were disorienting.
Anyway, onto the movie. This version of the Beowulf story is a bit different than the poem, but it’s a surprisingly competent alteration of the main plot, perhaps due to the fact that the script was co-written by Neil Gaiman, a well respected comic writer and novelist, and Roger Avary, whose writing credits includes some Tarantino movies, Silent Hill, and some other respected Hollywood movies. In the original poem, Beowulf travels to Heorot and defeats Grendel, then later beheads Grendel’s mother. The poem then ends with Beowulf fighting a dragon many years later and dying in battle. I think the new version of the story ties the whole storyline together better and makes it a more coherent movie in general. Without giving too much away, Grendel’s mother manages to survive and the final battle with the dragon is related to Beowulf’s past decisions and battles with Grendel and his mother. The movie also gives Beowulf a much more human side, and portrays him as a flawed man whose bravery is nearly matched by his mistakes.
There are some issues with the movie however, and it’s a shame too, because it hurts an otherwise great movie. The movie has some very childish and goofy potty humor and sight gags that feel a bit inappropriate in a ‘serious’ movie. When you have Beowulf jumping around on Grendel buck-naked and boob-flopping sight gags, it kind of ruins the feel of the movie. More importantly though, the movie feels a little emotionally hollow. Beowulf has a decent amount of characterization, but most everyone else feels pretty one-dimensional, and you don’t know much about them other than what their name is and what their role is. If they were changing the source material to start with, why not give the characters more depth?
Other than that, this is a pretty straight forward action movie. Some of the action sequences are just simply bad ass, and look like they could be straight out of God of War or another video game. The CG looks great really makes these pretty impressive and otherwise impossible action scenes, and many of the close-ups of the characters are totally in the “wow, this can’t be computer generated” category. Some of the scenes with a lot of the supporting cast tend to look pretty fake and not as impressive, but overall the CG is, at the very least, not a detriment to the movie. I’m not totally sold that this couldn’t have been done live action, but they did a good job nonetheless, and at least there’s no worry that the CG scenes look really fake in comparison to the live action ones. It’s this quasi-real, quasi-fake look, but it is consistent throughout.
So overall the movie isn’t really perfect, but it has little to do with the CG gimmick. The story just could have been a bit more rounded, and you would think that for the amount of money they spent on animating this that they would have made sure the story and characters were truly solid before starting. However, it still is an entertaining movie that’s a really fun theater experience, and if you have an IMAX theater near you, it really should be the only way you see it.