Bloody yet bland, ‘Beowulf’ is a bust
I was a mere sophomore in high school who took one look at the epic poem’s Old English and all the characters’ names that started with H and went straight to SparkNotes.
But four years later in college, I discovered Seamus Heaney’s compelling translation of the text and, with the help of a fantastically informative professor, fell in love with the rich narrative.
When word broke that a film version was in the works, I was excited to hear that Robert Zemeckis was at the helm, backed by such big-name stars as Angelina Jolie, Anthony Hopkins and Robin Wright Penn. The great story-director-cast triple threat seemed immune to failure.
Alas, as a film, “Beowulf” is disappointing, even if you do shell out the extra won to see it in IMAX 3D.
While my eyes stayed on the screen, it was because I was curious to see how screenwriters Roger Avary and Neil Gaiman, of “Stardust” fame, handled what many educators call the first important work of English literature.
Yes, Avary and Gaiman do manage to include enough details of the original epic to meet my high school English teacher’s approval. They also manage to show some creative flair by utilizing Jolie more ― or at least her body.
Months ago, while browsing IMDb for details on the film, I was shocked to see that Jolie had been cast as Grendel’s mother. (In both the poem and the film, Grendel is the monster that terrorizes the Danes, thus bringing Beowulf to the rescue.)
“Um, Angelina Jolie is hot,” I thought to myself. “Grendel’s mother is a monster. And not a hot monster.”
I just kept imagining the cover of John Gardner’s novel “Grendel,” which my high school teacher had also assigned. There, Grendel is portrayed as some furry hybrid of feral cat and caveman. How were Avary and Gaiman going to convince the audience that such a beast sprang from Jolie’s loins?
I’m still not sure how Grendel’s foxy, gold-dripping humanoid mother bears such hideous monsters, but now I understand how she gets pregnant to begin with.
In this interpretation of Beowulf, all of the heroic men who vow to slay Grendel’s mother end up as her bedmate. The warriors in this movie seem to care only about killing, eating, drinking and fornicating.
Poetic license aside, Beowulf is still pretty bad. It seems to suffer from “D-War” syndrome: too much emphasis on the visuals, not enough emphasis on character development.
Beowulf is a womanizing jerk who doesn’t earn an ounce of the audience’s sympathy or affection. Everyone else is a flat caricature.
That brings me to the animation. When I donned my 3D glasses, I got pumped up. I thought I’d be reaching out for objects onscreen, ducking projectiles and experiencing motion sickness.
The 3D is lame, and so are the special effects in general. As I watched the opening minutes of the movie, the jerky, unrealistic animated movements of the characters reminded me of “Shrek.” No wonder, as Zemeckis used the same techniques as he did while filming “The Polar Express,” which bombed (for good reason).
The characters’ faces, especially Wright Penn’s Wealthow, seemed plastic and cartoonish. Compared to the visually stunning “300” and “Sin City,” which artfully treaded the thin line between live action and animation, Beowulf is just a joke. I’m baffled as to why Zemeckis even used A-list Hollywood actors if he wasn’t going to take advantage of their talent.
In a nutshell, Beowulf is a boring, violent version of Shrek. No one watched Shrek for impressive animation; Pixar has an iron grip on the CGI crown. Audiences dig Shrek because it’s funny and cute.
But Beowulf is completely devoid of humor. There isn’t a heartwarming moral at the end of the story, only a bleak lecture about how lust and pride lead to every man’s downfall. (Thanks, but I learned that when I read the Iliad.)
Thirteen-year-old boys who thought D-War was life-changing will dig rampant animated breasts and Jolie’s nearly naked body, but audiences looking for substance need not see Beowulf.
This 3D fantasy just falls flat.
Animation/Fantasy / English
By Hannah Bae Contributing Writer [firstname.lastname@example.org]