Wednesday, November 21, 2007

"There have been many a brave soldier come to taste my husband's mead."

Mes Amis


Yes, it seems that ancient legends (see 300) call for much shouting from our heroes. And if you want a man to shout, then you can't go wrong with Ray Winstone who plays our titular hero as an east end nutter with a weakness for nude women who have no nipples and are covered in gold.

Of course, that's not the only departure from the original legend. It seems that - while everyone talks about being somewhere in Scandanavia or maybe Norway - we have moved the action to Wales. Yes, that is sir Anthony Hopkins as the old King and, no, your ears do not decieve you: everyone else seems to be talking in welsh accents.

But all matters aside (I forgave the blatantly Scottish king - THISH ISH SHPARTA! - in 300, after all, so we can't judge a movie by its accents) let's try and dissect this movie anyway.

The script, written in part by Neil Gaiman, is often fairly witty and actually quite clever. The departures from the original legends (Beowulf's got weaknesses now and his pride ends up being the downfall of his reign) are probably explained in the need for more narrative structure. After all, the original epics didn't give a crap about the classic three act structure or the need for well defined character arcs in the same way as modern movies.

So that's all fine. The bawdy chants of Beowulf's men are brilliant. The swipes at the "new God" Christ are subtle and actually rather clever. And in all, everyone's playing their best here. Winstone is having a ball in particular.

But its all lost beneath director Zemeckis's decision to film the damn thing and then mask everyone with CGI. It looks fake, unnatural and... decidedly cheap at times. You see the rendering is brilliant at some things, and poor at others. Hands and eyes in particular seem false. Background actors move unnaturally and Zemeckis's apparent attempt to make everything look lifelike therefore fails considerably especially as most of the money seems to have been spent on de-aging Winstone and making Angelina Jolie naked and nipple-less.

Oh yes, the nudity.

Why bother when you're going to get all coy? For a start, I'm joking about the nipples but its glaringly obvious and looks wrong, like they were - um - cut for the censors. But its nowhere as bad as when young Beowulf strips off his armour to fight the monster, Grendel (who has a strange ability to change his size just when its most convenient for the fighting to go against his favour). Cue frame after frame of objects getting in the way of Beowulf's manhood. From men's fists (insert joke here) to a quivering broadsword (and another) to wooden beams (oh, I just said wood, so insert one more) there's a whole selection of conveniently placed objects to stop us getting a glimpse of Ray's Winstone. And let's not mention the Anthony Hopkins strip tease within the first five minutes.

It all draws attention to itself, and to be honest, it reminds me of the opening of Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. It distracts from the drama far more than the odd flash of a CGI willy might have done

In the end, Beowulf is an intriguing failure. It could have been a great film, but is let down by the often bewldieringly unreal CGI sheen which robs the film of any natural charm. Sounds strange, considering that I think great animation can be full of life and that I loved the rotoscoping overlay in A SCANNER DARKLY, but here everyhing seems flat and lifeless, and I really have the feeling that beneath all those pixels, Winstone, Hopkins, Malkovich and co are doing their damndest to act. Add into the mix the fact that the direction rarely matches the bold blueprint the script seems to want it to take.

Intriguing, but dissapointing and - fun dragon fight and silly austin powers moments aside - rather forgettable.

Au revoir


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