went to see BEOWULF today as it was screening in both a 3D version and a regular version. we were given special 3D glasses made of sturdy plastic and with either plastic or ground glass lenses. in short, these were not the flimsy paper 3D glasses of yesteryear, but spectacles studded with anti-theft devices and carefully distributed–then collected afterward.
so, how was it? “life-like”?
well, if digital downloads of movies and tv shows are a shot across the bow of studios who want to eliminate writers (or would at least be happy if they were paid as little as possible), the quest to perfect CGI animation of human actors might just be the first attempt to deny actors much pay as well. maybe i’m paranoid in reading into these trends a basic aversion toward human beings, who are that expensive and unpredictable human element that (formerly?) defined the soul of art and artistic expression, but there it is. something about the mocap (motion capture) process relegates the actor to a mere template upon which to mold movements through space.
if you’ve ever seen Robert Zemeckis’ other film that tries to make CGI human characters look convincingly real, The Polar Express, then you’ve probably experienced the “uncanny valley” problem firsthand. in short, the “uncanny valley” refers to the tendency of computer-animated human characters to look completely fake, a little bit corpse-like, or at best, mannequin-ish. i guess the 3D glassses are meant to counter the flat affect of traditional 2D CGI animation by providing a layer of depth and roundedness. and yet, for all the insane attention to detail in the rendering of fur, hair, and skin, the human figures still look inescapably plastic.
let me put it this way, when BEOWULF first started and i caught my first glimpse of anthony hopkins, i was astonished he was so overweight and acting in a half-open toga. then i noticed his dead-looking eyes didn’t quite track normally, and realized that CGI would be playing as large a role in the actual experience of the film as anthony hopkins. so part of you is watching and thinking, Cool an arrow just came right past me, the other half is still following plot and characters. it makes the moviegoing experience a disconcerting split between an advertisement for what CGI can do and what’s happening next.
is the story any good?
i’ve never read Beowulf in high school, college or grad school (only the Canterbury Tales in the original middle English). but some years ago when the great irish poet and nobel laureate seamus heaney released his interpretation of the epic dark ages poem, my interest in it was re-awakened. i might go try the heaney now that i’ve seen the movie.
in any case, this neil gaiman/roger avary-penned version for the film tells the story of Beowulf the hero who comes to rid a danish kingdom of the horrible man-eating beast, grendel. it turns out that killing the beast is only the beginning of Beowulf’s problems, as the beast’s mother must be killed also. the only thing is, the beast’s mother is played by angelina jolie (naked and in 3D, i feel compelled to add). so one can imagine the difficulty in battling the enticing she-demon.
like any good story with a siren, there’s a deal with the devil to be made, dragons and other creatures to be slain, and then a curse to be broken. all of which involves maximum battle, gore, and video game-like combat.
BEOWULF is engaging and even touches upon weighty themes (immortality through art or religion/christianity, the concept of forever), but ultimately it’s more spectacle than it is wrenching human drama. still, the fact that a story that scholars guess was composed anywhere from 600 A.D. to 900 A.D. managed to survive at all and interest a modern audience is something of a miracle. and in spite of my resistance to the lure of 3D CGI, the film is an amazing sight, if not an entirely affecting one.
PS parents of the toddler children at our 11:05 am show, why are you bringing your tender young ones to an intense, loud experience where people’s heads get crushed, bodies are flung about, and the scary-looking monsters are eviscerated? WHEN YOUR KIDS CRY, IT MEANS YOU’VE MADE A MISTAKE IN COMING, not that they should be shushed. geez, what makes some parents so stupid, or too lazy to get a sitter? PG-13 does not mean “Okay for children of all ages”–what’s the rush to desensitize your child to violence and gore? idiots.