Friday, July 11, 2008


Like a lot of former liberal arts majors, I retain an admiration for the classics, even though it has been many reasons since I’ve read most of them. So I was interested in seeing Robert Zemeckis’ motion capture animation production of Beowulf, figuring it would be a grand epic story, at any rate. I was doomed to disappointment.

The first glaring quality is the animation. It just isn’t that polished. Why go through all the trouble to use motion capture technology when the movie is going to turn out looking like a cartoon anyway? I kept expecting Shrek to show up.

The second is a general discard of the original storyline. Although the film was written by Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary, both of whom I admire, this was a mistake. If the story’s good enough to hang around over a millennia, it probably has something that works. Obscure parts of the story are emphasized, others are omitted, and others are changed. Instead of fighting Grendel’s mother, Beowulf screws her, then has to deal with her offspring. I understand the temptation with Grendel’s mom is Angelina Jolie, but come on. You’re boinking a demon.

The biggest change was in Beowulf’s character. Zemeckis says in an extra that Beowulf was a two-dimensional hero in the original, but that’s the point. Here, Beowulf (sort of played by Ray Winstone) is depicted as a sort of braggart, who is unlikely to have performed the feats he claims, and who falsely takes credit for killing Grendel’s mother.

There is also a laughable scene where Beowulf fights Grendel in the nude – which means that objects have to be strategically placed in order to spare us the sight of little Beowulf. If you didn’t want to show nudity, have him leave his clothes on.

If you want a better telling of the Beowulf saga, check out John McTiernan’s The 13th Warrior. It has a much more logical explanation for why it deviates from the traditional telling, and does a better job of capturing the character of Beowulf.

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