Thursday, December 3, 2009

Beowulf (2007)

I avoided this movie like the plague because of all the horrendous reviews from media and from friends. I was curious to see if they were right. Occasionally, I find myself loving something that no one else I know likes (ahem…Waterworld…). I read Beowulf at some point when I was a teenager because I read anything I could get my hands on, all the time. Not enough of it stuck with me over the years for me to make a good comparison between the poem and the film but the feeling of the poem returned to me as I watched the movie.
The historical significance of the Beowulf epic is that it was long considered one of the oldest surviving texts of what is recognizable as an English language. While this is debated heatedly in some circles, the fact remains that the anonymous poem is very old, potentially from 800A.D. Here you can read a translation of it that appears to be a much better translation than the one that I read as a teenager that was very close to the original text. The bard who wrote the poem composed over 3000 lines to the hero, describing rituals, clothing, journeys, and battles.

The movie tells of how Beowulf goes to the aid of a troubled kingdom. He effortlessly puts down a creature that has been plaguing the area for several years. He is rewarded handsomely and prepares to return home with his fellow adventurers. But that is not the end of Denmark’s problems.

Never mess with a mother’s son. You can take that to heart and ask several local school employees if I’m kidding. Every little unruly monster has a mother, and that one did. And was she pissed!

Once again Beowulf is dispatched, this time with the reward of the crown and the Queen if he succeeds. And he is successful…well…he gets lucky so to speak. And all’s right with the world for years to come, until Beowulf is old and gray and the Queen he once so coveted is replaced by a little captive teenager who resembles the Queen in her younger days.

But his past comes back to haunt him, as it did for the King before him.

Beowulf, once a hero, now a deadbeat dad, an adulterer, and a man who has not lifted a sword in more than a decade, must struggle to step into the shoes of the hero once again.

Favorite Scene: When Grendel is laid to rest by his mother in the first part of the movie. I loathe Angelina Jolie on many levels, and the scene had more to do with the directing and the talent of the image generators, but I was actually in tears along with her.

The screenplay was written by Roger Avary (The Rules of Attraction, Silent Hill) and Neil Gaiman. Robert Zemeckis directed and Alan Silvestri’s score was beautiful.

The acting was beautiful, especially considering they were interacting with fluorescent colored plastic items of similar size and weight to the real thing and were wearing outfits similar to skydiving suits. Anthony Hopkins played Hrothgar, the king of Denmark who relinquishes his thrown to Beowulf. Wealthow, the Queen, is played by Robin Wright-Penn. John Malkovich plays Ureth, a very John Malkovich type character. Beowulf is played by the very busy Ray Winstone. Interesting tidbit, Ray was a very successful amateur boxer before starting his acting career. Alison Lohman plays Ursula, Beowulf’s mistress, and Angelina Jolie plays Grendel’s mother.

The movie is entirely CGI and the special features on the disc show how everything is simulated so that the actors can behave naturally enough that sometimes when you watch the finished product it’s hard to tell that it isn’t real. For example, for the feasting scene a metal egg beater with stuff stuck into it was used so that the actor could hold the beater, the size and weight of a large turkey leg, and bite down, ripping with his teeth. The room was even darkened like a cave as the actors did the motion capture for the cave scenes to give them a sense of being in a dark, confined space.

Crispin Glover, who plays Grendel, even speaks in Old English, giving Grendel a very authentic feel.

I think that people not expecting a fully CGI movie, or those unfamiliar with CGI and animation in more adult-oriented features, might have been the biggest opposition. Being a fan of anime for at least two decades, I loved it instantly. The story was typical adventure/redemption (which I’m a sucker for). It has everything: love triangles galore, sensuality, dragonslaying, intrigue, lost love, and dark secrets. The CGI gives it the epic fantasy/fairy tale feel that the story itself deserves.
I was not of the opinion that the CGI took anything away from the movie. With the writer/director team and the brilliant cast, I don’t see how it could be so hated as it seems to be, at least from those whom I hear from.
I wish people would watch the movie with an open mind and give it another chance. It was very fun and sucked me in from the start. I am a big fan of the idea of the performance capture Oscar category.

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