A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 262 – Beowulf (2007)

Beowulf (2007) – November 17th, 2010

While watching this movie I did something I rarely do for this project: I looked at reviews. I normally try to avoid doing that but I was curious about the reception of some of the changes the movie made to the narrative of the story. Because they’re pretty substantial, to be honest, and I’m of two minds about them myself. It seems the academics were too, so I don’t think I really spoiled my ability to give an unbiased review here. But see, while I’d read excerpts of the poem and looked through some of the translations and re-writings of it, I’ve never really studied it in an academic setting. And I’ve done enough other poetic analysis to be certain that my casual perusals of the text weren’t the sort of reading done by scholars. Sometimes it’s nice to do the poetic analysis yourself and sometimes it’s nice to look at what’s already been done by people who get paid to do it.

Believe me, I’ll get to the animation eventually, but first I’m going to babble about the plot. Because, see, I get what was done here. There are certainly things I don’t like about it, but I get it. I can understand why one would take a poem with three big battles and altering things to tie all three together, instead of just the first two. I can understand the purpose behind the fatherhood theme and the idea that Beowulf rises as a king only to follow the same path as Hrothgar. The whole repeated mistakes thing makes sense and it’s easy to follow. This was not a movie made for academics, regardless of the nerd cred Neil Gaiman’s involvement might have lent it. So the plot needs to have a running theme and it can’t rely on interpretation and analysis. Fine. I still have quibbles.

For one, I’m not thrilled with the women in the movie. Or rather, I’m not thrilled with the roles they play. Wealthow, the queen, is all well and good, and I like her character here. She’s strong and definitely has a mind of her own. But she’s handed over to Beowulf as property and he seems happy about that until they’re both getting on in years and then he’s got a mistress. I honestly cannot say what purpose the mistress serves, plotwise. If there’d been a lot of attention paid to Beowulf and Wealthow as a couple, then sure, I could see the point, perhaps illustrating the distance between the two and whatnot. But it’s never more than a passing mention. It has no purpose other than to make Beowulf look like he’s not nearly as honorable as we’d like him to be and to put two cowering women instead of one on the castle ramparts when the dragon attacks at the end. And yes, that is petty of me to gripe about but I don’t give a damn. It’s unnecessary and to be honest I find it a hell of a lot more gratuitous than Grendel’s mother’s CGI bosom.

The trouble is that it speaks to a sort of casual disregard for character development that I find irritating. The running theme of fatherhood and Grendel’s mother being this sort of primal force that tempts men seeking power into giving her both a child and control over them? I won’t argue with that and it made for some good potential character development. But I’d have liked a little more of it if they were going to attempt it. Don’t half-ass that and then toss in a mistress to try and short-cut your way to a broken marriage. If you’re not going to bother with character development and just do a CGI action movie full of swords and screaming and monsters and whatnot, then do it. It’s not like the inner workings of Beowulf’s mind are really explored in depth in the poem. At least not from what I recall.

Maybe it all would have come across better had I not spent the majority of the movie waiting for the cut scene to end so we could start playing the video game. The animation in this movie is so firmly entrenched in the Uncanny Valley, it’s built a house and settled down to raise the kids there. Every so often there’d be a moment when it worked just right or I’d be super impressed by the texture on a table or a sword or something. And then one of the characters would speak and my brain would screech to a halt because that mouth movement just isn’t natural. Or an arm would swing in just the wrong way and I’d be back to being creeped out by the CGI.

It’s really horribly distracting and I honestly think I’d have enjoyed the movie a lot more had it been in live action. One of the things I read in my scanning of stuff about the movie while we watched it was that the director and some of the actors really liked the process of making a motion-capture movie. It allowed them to get funky angles and close-ups and not wait around for set dressing and whatnot! And that’s great. I’m glad the movie was fun to make. Unfortunately that doesn’t necessarily mean it was as much fun to watch.

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November 17, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , ,

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