Friday, November 16, 2007

Beowulf

( in 3D)
Eye Popping, but not for Kids

CGI is an interesting beast. Used properly, it can be a convincing effects vehicle, and has completely supplanted traditional 2D animation in mainstream animated fare. These movies (Ratatouille, Bee Movie) are still kid centric, zeroing in on the largest and most popular demographic available. Some have ventured into more mature fare (Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within), but none have gone as far as Beowulf, the newest computer animated film from director Robert Zemeckis (The Polar Express). This is a bloody, sexy (and misrated) flick that remakes the classic Anglo-Saxon adventure poem into a very watchable, exciting epic. If the 3D version is available to you, go see it--it ups the experience that much more.

A nasty, gruesome giant known as Grendel (Crispin Glover) is terrorizing a small kingdom in sixth century Denmark. Grendel’s exposed eardrum is overly sensitive to the Danes’ merrymaking, and he attacks viscously when the pain becomes unbearable. King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins) offers half his kingdom’s gold to anyone who can slay the beast. This summons the warrior Beowulf (Ray Winstone) and his men, intent on destroying the monster and collecting the reward. While Grendel is a formidable foe, his mother (Angelina Jolie) must also be dealt with, and may prove to be more than even the mighty Beowulf can handle.

Beowulf is a good movie that overcomes it’s supposed gimmick and really goes somewhere. The story, while altered from it’s literary roots, is effective and exciting, especially in the first act. The Grendel stuff is really intense and his grotesque appearance (he almost looks inside out) only adds to his fearsome demeanor. The movie does drag a bit in the middle, but then picks up again with another monsteriffic showdown that doesn’t quite equal what came before, but adds viscera all its own. My only complaint is that Beowulf is the least developed as a character. We just don’t get to know what makes him tick like those who surround him.

The “performance capture” technique of digitizing real actors works pretty well, and the A-list talent is recognizable under their digital makeup. True, there is a little rubberiness to their appearances, but if you think of this as stylized and not photo realistic (which isn’t the intent), it becomes easier to accept. Sometimes movement looks strange, but this is true of any animation and not just the silicon variety.

Someone at the MPAA must be getting a kickback, because there is no way this is a PG-13 movie. Blood gushes here just as freely as in any recent horror movie, and when Water Witch Jolie pops up out of her liquid lair, she is barely coated in a gold sheen that covers about as much as a wet T-shirt. I was shocked at what was present here, and must warn you parents that this isn’t a movie for children. I’m fine with it being more of an adult movie, but wish the rating reflected that.

I saw Beowulf in Digital 3D, and the effect was spectacular. Wide shots had real scope, weapons protruded from the screen, and people and objects inhabited distinct planes--all with no headaches from the polarized lenses. The fantasy bend of the story is only aided by this presentation, and I highly recommend it. While the movie is an entertaining ride with some good drama, the 3D adds that extra layer that makes it a must-see that you can only get by visiting a properly equipped theater. I highly recommend that you do.

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