Saturday, November 24, 2007

BEOWULF MOVIE REVIEW















CAST: RAY WINSTONE, SIR ANTHONY HOPKINS, ROBIN WRIGHT PENN, BRENDAN GLEESON, ANGELINE JOLIE
DIRECTOR: ROBERT ZEMECKIS
RUNTIME: 113 min.
RATING: ***1/2
GENRE: ADVENTURE, FANTASY, ANIMATED, COMEDY

There was animated (2-D, Mickey Mouse) and then there is animated (3-D, Toy Story). And then, there’s the world and imagination of Robert Zemeckis, who just keeps treading his own course through cinematic history, always pushing the technical envelope. He has probably done more in the area of special effects than any single filmmaker since George Lucas. First, he brings the animation genre back into mainstream limelight, with his immensely successful Who Framed Roger the Rabbit? (1998). If not for him, I guess we wouldn’t have been witness to such masterpieces, a genre which is gaining new grounds with every passing year. Then, 16 years later, as if tired by what his earlier film has achieved, he goes on to make that wonderful Christmas film The Polar Express, bringing to the fore the technique of performance capture (the first film to be made using the sister technique motion capture was Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, which bombed at the box office).
As against standard motion capture, performance captures the body and the hand movements as well as the expressions by means of sensors attached to the body. That is the reason why Sir Hopkins’ left eye is as it is in reality, a bit smaller than his right eye. Of course, Ray Winstone, who plays Beowulf, and who in reality is more like a bag of pillow, doesn’t remotely look like his character that could rival those superhero Spartans. And that is where the technology comes in, to alter the physical appearance, to alter the expressions as the one who pulls the strings finds necessary. And also, the technology makes it apparently easier to include tracking shots than in live action, making the spectacle even more spectacular.
And as Beowulf finds out, the technology could be used to for a lot of quasi-nude scenes and still finding it easy to escape from the wrath of the censors. There is a sequence where Beowulf is waiting for the monster Grendel, to fight him, and the film teasingly pulls all sorts of tricks to hide the character’s nudity. One moment, it is hidden by a soldier’s sword and the next moment it is hidden by his arm. As the monster comes in, for the first full-fledged action sequence of the film, everyone was riveted on how the hide-and-seek would turn out rather than the simple matter of our hero overcoming the dreaded monster. The soldiers too make a hell of a lot of sexual references for a U/A rated picture.
And then, there’s Angelina Jolie, who is literally glittering in her full glory.
Over a dozen years ago, I had one of my most unique and unforgettable experiences ever at the movies. It was the release of James Cameron action blockbuster True Lies, and by means of a contest in Indian Express, we won a total of 16 tickets for answering four no-brainers. Father gave away the tickets to his friends, for free I might add, keeping only a couple for me and him. And together, we went for the Friday night show to the now closed theater Rahul, a big time name back then. And we were stopped at the gate. Rather, I was stopped at the gate. For what – for an adult rating. Father pleaded unendingly, even lying that it was I who answered the questions (father did), but to avail. I, in my seventh grade at that time, was flabbergasted. And we returned, my dad trying unendingly to churn a single word out of me. I have since watched the film over 30 times, many of those viewings borne solely out of grudge. A grudge I still carry, albeit in small amounts.
So, Angelina Jolie, rather her manifestation is glitteringly naked. And the film is U/A. And the film has earned similar ratings – PG-13 (US), UK-12A. Co-writer Roger Avary (Pulp Fiction, Killing Zoe, Silent Hill) admits to Roger Ebert (a longstanding critic of the rating system), as Ebert tells here, that he worked with a glint in his eye and just can’t believe they have got away with it. He mischievously goes on to claim that his fiendish plan is in place to unleash more weirdness on to the masses.
Angelina Jolie tells BBC that she wouldn’t be taking her kids to the film. As I see it, animation or not, if I turn the wheel back those dozen years and it was this manifestation of Angelina Jolie in place of Jamie Lee Curtis, I can’t see much of a difference being made.
Beowulf is based on the English epic, the oldest known epic narrative composed in English. It tells the story of the brave young warrior who arrives on the shores of the Danish king Hrothgar’s empire to rid them of the dreaded monster Grendel, who happens to be the son of an even more sinister monster. The film does deviate a bit from the epic, in the storyline which is understandable, but also in the tone. For one, this is an unabashedly funny film, which keeps no stone unturned to make fun of its central character. One can almost feel the writers chuckling as Beowulf recites his adventures; they in fact insert a small scene betraying that some of his adventures must be pure lies. This isn’t heroic, but in its own sweet way talks about heroism that needn’t be one hundred per cent pure. For one, Beowulf keeps repeating to the people – I’ll kill your monster – as if he’s trying desperately to convince them at every chance. Beowulf is brave, but he sure does pad up stories to impress. In that pride lay his curse. Of course, keeping with today’s times, the curse involves state created monsters.
I was getting a lot of stares from people sitting besides me, for I found myself laughing a number of times. Most of the people just stared there, and for a moment, I wondered if I had lost it, for all my money the film was satirical every which way one looks at it. As I came back and read Ebert’s review, it was heartening to note his viewpoint too. No Mr. Ebert, the spirit of irony hasn’t been lost in the land. The action is written, I guess, to induce chuckles and none of it is unintentional. And then, there’s the climax. The climactic dragon-fight, which has all the energy one can expect. It is as of the entire film’s runtime is an excuse for this one particular sequence.
Beowulf is a spectacle, a rousing spectacle, a roaring entertaining spectacle that invests its all in it. Dialogues are of little or no concern, attention paid to them only when wench jokes are made. Or when Beowulf claims to Grendel – I am Ripper... Tearer... Slasher... Gouger. I am the Teeth in the Darkness, the Talons in the Night. Mine is Strength... and Lust... and Power! I AM BEOWULF! When a seduction involving Jolie includes only her appearance and none of her spoken skills, I guess that pretty much sums it. Of course, this isn’t as landmark an achievement as that six-pack testosterone overflow that hit us early this year simply for the reason that the technology hasn’t been perfected yet. As opposed to those films (Sin City, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow) which use digital backlot (greenscreen), performance capture simply doesn’t capture that well. There are many a time when the emotion just doesn’t get conveyed, where the manifestations come across as what they are – lifeless. Some of it has to do with eyes, for the technology still hasn’t been perfected to fit sensors into the eyes.

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