I wish I could be as gushing and adamant about Beowulf. We saw this movie last weekend and were all disappointed for various reasons, even my 15 year old son…..and in this case that is food for thought!
I did not hate it. Let me say that. It isn’t the worse movie I have ever seen. And I have it on very good authority that the 3-D version is spectacular for sheer visual effects and cinematic experience.
So, what is the problem? Well, first off I guess I have a wee bit of trouble with a dramatic movie done in total CGI graphics. I think it is stunning, mind you, from a technical aspect. And when combined with live action such as in the Lord of the Rings movies or to enhance the spectacle as in 300, it works fabulously. However, to do a whole movie this way is just too Shrek for me. In the case of a fairytale such as Shrek you expect the characters to be a bit cartoony and it is a marvel to note how near-to-real they are. In the case of Beowulf, the cartoony aspects pulled me out of the drama and were a distraction that I did not want. Technically I really must hand it to the folks who performed their computer magic on this one. It truly was amazing about 80 to 85% of the time with the graphics incredibly real. But in a bizarre way it is that very perfection that leads to and increases the extreme jarring when a character does not move as it should or a face is seen too close and the eyes are dead. Let me put it this way…..there were far too many giggles, laughs, and guffaws running about the theater when this story is not even slightly comedic.
And that leads me to the second trouble. I am not a Beowulf expert. Far from it. But I do know a bit of the legend and it is all about heroism and bravery. Steeped in fact with grandiose elements of fable and superstition interwoven, Beowulf is the tale of a hero of mythic proportions. A man who fought for honor and family, who was the epitome of selfless bravery, a warrior strong and focused, and a servant loyal to his King. He was rewarded for his deeds and served his people all of his life, eventually dying in the final act of saving them from dire peril. This poem has survived since 1010 and was probably sung around fires for generations prior as the events take place somewhere between the 5th and 6th centuries. An epic of such history and prestige should not be taken lightly, in my humble opinion. Dramatization and adaptation is one thing, and I have no problem with this in the cinematic world, but completely changing a theme or purpose bothers me a bit. Show some respect, would ya!
This movie went for a more ‘human’ version of this great Anglo-Saxon hero, presenting a man who was flawed and fatally sold his soul for Angelina Jolie’s boobies! What is it with her?! Seriously, I fear the story teller did not learn the lesson from the success of 300, Braveheart, LOTR, etc… ie- people want to see heroes who are tough, moral, driven, honorable, and willing to die for the greater good if need be. If this is not how the poem was written I would not have such a problem with portraying a physically strong but ethically weak and imperfect individual who nonetheless got the job done. But why take a fabulous legend and alter it? Why accentuate the fantastical monsters to the point of ridiculousness, but then try to minimize the nobility of the warriors? Why throw in a love story that ends up being tragic and pointless without explanation? Why force a relationship between the battles Beowulf fought where none existed, and then do a poor job at weaving the plot? In the end we just felt sad. This was not the tale of a conquering, admirable champion, but rather struck us as an anti-hero statement of the futility in being a warrior in a cause.
A much better alternative to the Beowulf legend is the 2006 Beowulf & Grendel starring the always fabulous Gerard Butler. This one also explored the possible human feeling and drive behind the famed confrontation, but did it in a much more logical way while maintaining Beowulf’s heroism. Some of the myth and fantasy was left in, but with not a hint of CGI anywhere it played with a gritty realism that made you feel as if you were the fly in the corner watching it unfold. It was a very good movie and is now available on DVD.