Wednesday, November 21, 2007
The following is a SomeGuy movie review. Read at own risk.
Stupid Ed got into town for the week (perk to working in The States, you get to come back to Canada during Thanksgiving). So, I skipped kung fu and went to see Beowulf with him instead. It was a 10:30pm showing, I was already somewhat tired, and by the time the movie started the cinema was perhaps . . . half, 2/3rds full. Most there were of the same variety as us: Beowulf would be something to do, let's check it out since we have time to kill.
I've come to the conclusion that my schooling is probably going to affect every movie I see for the rest of my life. Just as studying Classical History had influenced my take on the movie 300, my Anglo-Saxon Poetry class has influenced my watching of Beowulf. And believe me, when "Beowulf" is in the course name, you learn a LOT about Beowulf . . .
Our own amazing artist Snowy had already left us a lasting dissertation on the movie's animation. And for the most part I have to say that I agree with her. There are times when the CG-enhanced acting wants to be crazy-fantastical and larger than life, and there are times it wants to wow you with its photo-realism. And it really does see-saw back and forth and sometimes it really does look really weird (Robin Wright Penn as Wealtheow gets a lot of this). I will say that that approach makes their interactions with the big 3 monsters a lot easier to look at and not like a CG "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" at all. But yeah, the fine details sometimes were just a little too smooth, or the smile is just a little too crooked. Not horrible, but nothing that'll make ya crap your pants.
The fights might make you crap your pants, though. I'd say the action scenes were definitely up there, taking advantage of the CG approach to let you rip bodies apart and whatnot. The big set pieces like with the dragon were cool with a neat take on dragon fire physics that was unique and nice to watch. Definitely a fun spectacle to watch in all. Would I have preferred an R/18A rating to go with this all? I just remember that there was a red-band trailer on their website . . . if you wanted to see it, you had to give a name and a zipcode and everything to prove you were "mature enough" to watch it (which is a pretty ballsy way of going about it). I watched it on YouTube in any case . . . and after that, I gotta say I was expecting something maybe a bit more graphic.
What can I say, after 300, it's hard to think of a PG-13 epic hero as quite as epic . . . aside from groaning a little at all their little Austin Powers "hide the nudity" sequences, though, it's a moot point.
So far par for the course, huh? Alright, I'll dig into the stuff I REALLY liked. I have to put on my scholarly hat now . . .
"Beowulf" has an excellent sense of the society from which it originated. The grandeur and the joy of the mead hall is exactly the kind of place stories like these were told (you don't even need the burping and the peeing on the wall to pull that off!). When people sang and told stories, they went about it in a way that was a fair modern representation of how it would have been back then. You'd have your group of people, one guy would start it off and spit his rhymes (or alliterations, as the original case was); everyone would go "Yeeeayah boi!" and then the next guy would go. Something like that . . . so the Germanic oral tradition is strong and it's well represented in this movie.
There's a lot of boasting and dissing in the movie, as there is a lot of boasting and dissing in the poem. Every time Beowulf goes, "I'm Beowulf and I'm gonna kill your monster!" you can hear people cheering and jeering all at once. But that's how it worked. You'd make a boast, and then whether you could come through with it was what earned your treasure. When Unferth sizes up Beowulf, basically going, "so THIS is the guy that's gonna save us, eh?" Again, that whole sequence is almost straight out of the poem (Beowulf and Unferth have a good moment at that point). So yeah, the boasting and the like was great.
Oh, and there WAS a point when they spoke Old English poetry in the movie. I enjoyed that even more.
Sharing of treasure: also well done. As Beowulf himself describes as what he thought was the ideal life: "battle in the morning, share the treasure in the afternoon." That's how a lord worked, and that's why he could have a meadhall full of thegns - 'cause after the fighting was over, everyone got a share in the loot. The part when Unferth gets the necklace (probably meant to be a torque/torc, but didn't really look it) is something straight out of the poem . . . 'cause yeah, we talked about torques a lot. So that aspect was good too. Needless to say, the opening sequence made me pretty happy to see all of that kinda stuff in there.
The last thing I'll touch upon is the use of religion in the story . . . 'cause that's always been a tricky part to the Beowulf poem. Here's where I need to give a quick history lesson . . .
The story of Beowulf is set in Scandinavia, but was composed and told (orally) by the Anglo-Saxons in Britain. The story is about a Pre-Christian time with Pre-Christian heroes, gods and legends. Beowulf remained this way for a few centuries until someone wrote it down . . . of course, the ONLY people who knew how to read and write back then were clerics - monks and priests and the like. So the written poem is kinda neat like that; it's written with many, many very Christian wordings but is telling a story that's absolutely about a non-Christian people. It's a part of the story that a lot of people have had to work with/around in all modern retellings of Beowulf.
So did I like how they handled the religion angle in Beowulf? Mm . . . yeah, it was alright. It was very clean, going from Germanic young people to Christian old people . . . but in following the movie's main theme of an end to the monsters and the heroes, that time-skip and the religion-shift works. If not that, it's at least neat and satisfying to know that they touched on that point.
So now I've discussed the styles and the themes of the story. How about the plot itself?
Hoooooooo boy . . . . . I think pretty much the moment we all saw Angelina Jolie in the trailer talking to and sexing up Beowulf, we all KNEW this wasn't going to be a word-for-word retelling. You just have to accept that and roll with it, I guess, 'cause the filmmakers have their own themes and their own story with its own motivations that they wanna tell. Besides, there's really only so much you can do with a story about a hero who comes to Denmark, kills a monster, kills the monster's mother, becomes a king, later fights a dragon". Why does he have to kill the monsters? Why are the monsters terrorising the Danes? The movie has its own ways to explain those.
Do they work? Ummmm . . . . . ish.
I can appreciate the story they wanna tell. It's about being true to yourself, living to the fullest and being worthy of being remembered in songs for the rest of time. They really drama that up. Of course, that doesn't make for a whole lot of conflict and stuff, now does it? Not exactly . . .
So you throw in romantic angles which were NEVER in the story. You add daddy-issues which were NEVER in the story. Again, for purposes of the story they're telling you understand why . . . but it still feels a bit too . . . . . I guess, modern? Like I said, for the purposes of the story they're telling I get it, but it still sits uneasy with me, knowing what I know.
Oh yeah . . . y'know Unferth, Hrothgar's "most respected advisor"? That's freakin' balls . . . Unferth is SUPPOSED to be his right-hand man, his bodyguard, his loyal aide. He's supposed to be a fighting man, not some damn robed bastard! As for making him a bit of a jerk, well . . . that's a question for the scholars that's been around for a while (my prof' like Unferth, so y'know . . .).
Beowulf of the Geats does indeed grow up to become king after his adventures with Grendel and his mother . . . he certainly does become king . . . of his OWN people THE GEATS! Yeah . . . they didn't do that in the movie . . . again, I can appreciate why they did, but these are the kinds of seminal changes that really tear up and rewrite the pages of the story . . .
. . . heh, and this doesn't even touch on the BIG change they took . . . . . that one is gonna be a source of a LOT of anguish in English Literature classrooms for years to come . . .
I really need to go to sleep, so I'll leave it at that.
So did I enjoy it? Yeah, it was a'ight. Music was good, story was good in its own Frankenstein-esque manner . . . wasn't anything inherently life-changing for me, probably won't feel the need to buy the DVD right away or anything . . . made for a fun Tuesday night, I'll say.
On another interesting note for anyone who cares, Gerard Butler (King Leonidas in "300") once played Beowulf in a movie from a few years back, "Beowulf and Grendel". Their version of the story is that Hrothgar and some other Danes killed Grendel's father when Grendel was still young . . . heh, yeah, wrap your head around that one . . . makes sense for a different kinda story though, doesn't it?
Whatever . . . "Hitman" comes out today. I'll hafta watch that quickly . . .