Sunday, February 10, 2008

I’m not quite sure what’s up with Robert Zemeckis’ animation fetish. First The Polar Express and now Beowulf (and in the future, A Christmas Carol). He seems to have got tired with any notion of reality, of the limitations that traditional filmmaking techniques put on him. After all, Beowulf could have been a live-action picture. With technology today, it wouldn’t have been that difficult. But instead Zemeckis decided against pursuing that route.

This decision has both benefits and drawbacks. Yes the characters often move in a weird, jerky way and yes it’s strange seeing animated versions of famous actors, but at the same time the fidelity to this technique gives you a certain purity of vision – there’s no awkward mixture of effects and reality; you either buy into this visualisation of the story or you don’t. And to be honest, the technique never took me out of the film.

Well, okay, there was one thing that took me out of the film. The hero is played by Ray Winstone. Okay, that shouldn’t affect me in any way – he’s a good actor. But the character here is ripped, whereas Ray is, well, fat. Everyone else looks like the actor who plays them, while Beowulf looks like Sean Bean. Weird.

But of course part of the point of filming the film this way is to do things that you couldn’t do in a normal film – impossible camera shots, have fantastical beasts interact more easily with humans and have the characters age more convincingly. And there are some beautiful moments. There’s one bit near the start where the King’s hall is celebrating and dancing and you slowly move out of the building and across the snowy fields. But then the camera keeps moving. It keeps moving through forests and mountains until it comes to a cave. We then see the monster Grendel scream in pain. It’s a flashy shot but it’s also a great way of explaining the character – the enjoyment of others, the pleasure this monster can never have, is what causes him pain.

And the monster is a pretty horrific creation. His screams are ear-splittingly loud and he cries like a child. But he also appears in the King’s hall and rips men to pieces – one even gets tossed in the air and lands on a spear. But worse than this, in a later scene, where Beowulf confronts the monster, he eats a soldier. For a while he stands there munching on the guy, a sad look on his face. Quite how this film got released as a 12A/PG-13, I don’t know.

But the confrontation between Beowulf and Grendel is probably the best scene in the film. It’s horrific, exciting and the monster’s ultimate destruction (by Beowulf ripping its arm off) is also quite sad. As well as being fearsome, Grendel is also incredibly pathetic. He’s a sad little child who is under the thumb of his demonic mother. And as Beowulf shouts at him while having him trapped, he can only whimper.

However, as well as all this, the scene is also amusing. Why, you ask? Well, for some reason, Beowulf decides he has to fight the monster naked. The explanation is something silly, like because the monster has no weapon he’s going to fight it without weapons as well. But when he disrobes, women squeal in excitement. And to hide his dangly bits from the children who will doubtlessly be seeing this film, objects are always obscuring his genitals. The best example of this is when he stands on a table and approaches a sword that is implanted in the wood. Yes, he has a large sword. Yes, he’s one hell of a man.

But there’s actually plenty of sex in the film. Not only do you have a gnarly buff warrior disrobing so that he can go toe-to-toe with a monster, but you have the soldiers flirting with a maid with large knockers and Grendel’s mother who has golden tits. Fighting and fucking are the film’s forte. And it’s weird that Angelina, without the tats and with some shape brought back to her increasingly emaciated face, looks better here than she does in reality. No wonder so many Kings have been brought to their doom – who wouldn’t want to nail a demon with golden tits and feet that are in the shape of high heels? She’s certainly a lot sexier than the bland Queen.

However, there’s a high price to pay for fucking Grendel’s mum. Her womb seems to be a bit messed up. One King gets a crying, ten-foot tall troll as a son and Beowulf gets a dragon. Yeah, that’s a high price to pay for some sweet, sweet demon pussy. The lesson to be learnt here: if her tits shine, just say no.

The final action scene, where Beowulf fights the dragon, isn’t as enjoyable as the scrap with Grendel, but it continues the theme of extreme violence. Not only does Beowulf hack off part of his own arm but he also reaches into the dragon’s chest and rips its heart out. And we see this in close-up. Nice.

But although the violence is fun, I was more impressed with the atmosphere and the tension the film creates. Sure there are one too many cheap-shots (‘we’re going to show this film in 3-D, so let’s just have things fly at the screen ad nausea; it’ll be great!’) and the sound is pumped up to 11, but the film is genuinely creepy in places, which pleased me a great deal. And I also like the theme that runs through the film of the importance of stories - how we need them to build heroes, heroes who make our normal lives more bearable. But with this you also have the poison of lies. Once we let them creep into our lives we'll always been enslaved to them. And with this in mind, I have to say that I enjoyed the open ending. Apparently the weakness of men is everlasting; pussy will ruin us all.

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  1. I do love your sense of humor, my friend, as raw and rubbery as it is. Some of the sentences in this review are among the funniest (and most perversely perceptive) I've ever read of yours, be it on this blog or in our book club - your way of putting things defies comparison, eliciting guffaws and embarrassment in equal measure. Props and kudos...


  2. absolutely no doubt this deserved a 15 certificate. Or a fuck off big sign saying 'BEWARE your children will be so scared they will likely piss themselves'.