A Certain Lack of Focus

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Watching Beowulf

beowulfI should preface this review by admitting that I haven't read Beowulf since freshman year of high school and I'm not honestly sure if I got around to reading it then. This will not be a review about how closely or horribly the movie follows the book, and honestly I've lost patience with that type of review anyway: when you go to see a movie you should watch it as just that: a movie. It's an ADAPTATION people.

In all fairness, most of the negative reviews haven't focused on the movie's relationship to the book, nor really have the positive ones. This may be because everyone else has moved beyond the "They raped that book!" review, but I think it's far more likely that most of the reviewers have as vague of a memory of the actual poem as I do. I mean, I know the STORY, everyone knows the story, but details? It's just as easy to believe they got those right as wrong.

I have to say that this movie wasn't what I expected. For one thing, although most of the reviews I read were either bitching or raving about the CGI, I had no idea the whole thing was done in CGI rather a combo of live action and CGI like Spiderman or something. The CGI was good, possibly up there with Final Flight of the Osiris from The Animatrix.

bubbleThe CGI was very good, and I'm always impressed with good CGI, but I can understand why people are complaining about it. The main complaint is that CGI will never have the liveliness of real human actors, but in this I think they're missing the mark slightly. The problem isn't that the CGI characters aren't expressive enough or alive enough, the problem, which is just a bit distracting, is that they aren't human. There's something a bit alien about them which we can accept in cartoons but not in creatures that are so close to being real. With a dog we might not even be able to tell the difference but we're so keyed into the visuals of what make human beings that it's impossible not to notice. Some day they may get to the point where it is indistinguishable but I'm not sure what the point of that is, the cool thing about CGI is all the weird stuff you can do with it. Which the movie Beowulf did take advantage of, in camera angles, character movement, and of course CGI monsters which were fully integrated into the story since they were no more CGI than anything else.

Personally, although I was often noticing the CGI, it didn't bother me and I was able to get easily lost in the story. I think the real problem with the movie was nothing in the movie at all: it was the previews.

I don't know whether anyone remembers the movie In the Bedroom. It was a quite a good movie, came out in the beginning of the decade. The previews promised a thriller with a jealous ex-husband, a young lover and anxious parents. Instead the audience was stunned when the sweet young lover, a likable, attractive young man, was shot and killed in the first half hour of a rather long movie. Although there was a great deal of suspense in the movie, what we had instead of a high excitement, shallow thriller was a deep psychological tragedy involving families and killers. I'm not sure how it did in the box office or after, but I know I wasn't prepared to watch what I payed for. This is an example of lousy marketing that I think Beowulf suffers from as well.

braveheartIt's not quite as far off as In the Bedroom, and in a way I think that might make it even more problematic, because people will go into the movie assuming it's the TRYING TO BE the same type of mainstream epic adventure/fantasy movie that they were shown in the preview. Instead we get something that's a little, but JUST a little bit off.

My main thought at the end of the movie was, yup, that screenplay was written by Neil Gaiman alright. If you go into the movie expecting Stardust instead of The 13th Warrior you'll be much better off. Think of this movie as Shrek, only just for grown-ups, a bit more serious (not too much mind you), more realistic visually, and a lot more violent.shrekOn a side note, fantastic job by Brendan Gleeson, once again, in the best-friend-of-main-character role.

Images stolen from various places which they link to if you click on them.

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