Beowulf

Last night we donned our coats and ventured into the cold nigh air of Leeds to watch the late night shoppers over a cup of coffee.  This was followed by the one daily showing of Beowulf at the cinema.  This is a film I have heard a lot about of hype about it on the run up to its release but it appears to have been received in the same manner as a damp three year old firework.  It appears to have disappeared from cinemas with the lightning pace of a speeding bullet.

As you may be aware, the whole film is created in CGI utilising the features of the actors.  This means that Ray Winston is able to portray a tall naked young fighting man with a six pack.  Something he himself was concerned about when he was sent the script to look over.  Whilst this style of cinematography is becoming more and more commonplace, Beowulf is not shot in the obvious cartoon animation style of the likes of Shrek.  The intention here is instead to be able to show a realistic but obviously ‘other’ realm complete with monsters and dragons.  My initial reaction to the cinematography was deep scepticism and I was worried greatly by the first scene.  This was mostly because party in the hall of Hrothgar felt as though we were watching the animation between level one and two of a fantasy based computer game.  Obviously this made me a little apprehensive about the rest of the film.  However, as the film progressed and more and more actors were blended into the animation it became much more believable.  At some points in the film the action disjointed as main characters seemed to move much more easily that the bit part characters who occasionally looked like robotic dancers.  I am glad I saw it at the cinema as it would definitely feel like a computer game if I saw it on the TV next to a playstation!

The tale itself is based upon the Anglo Saxon epic poem and feels like the stories you would tell around a camp fire after battle whilst quaffing ale.  It is important to bear this in mind whilst watching the film otherwise the story can become “thin gruel” as one critic penned.  The tale is one of the quest for redemption as the main characters struggle with their past weakness.  The monster Grendle wreaks havoc in the kingdom as a result of the kings earlier failings.  The hero Beowulf defeats the monster but then succumbs to the same temptations as the king.  This results in a similar turn of events as the kingdom becomes victim of the same fate as once again a monster preys upon the people.

The story highlights the cyclical nature of history as one generation follows in the footsteps of the previous.  This was left to the imagination of the audience as the final scene sees the third king struggling with the same temptation that defeated his forebears.  It is so difficult for us to all remember that our past does not define our future. 

For me, the character of Beowulf brilliantly illustrated the ‘front’ that people use to hide their inner vulnerability.  His whole life was spent building ‘a name’ and persona called Beowulf.  His character became a separate entity to his reality.  For the four corners of the Earth his name was known as the one who killed Grendle and Grendle’s mother.  He was tormented by the knowledge of the truth about how he came to be such a powerful ruler through his deception.  This came to a head as he sought to make right the situation.  Eventually he gave up his life to make up for these inadequacies but not until he had chopped off his own arm and fallen to his death.  As he dies he is assured by his closest friend that people will tell his tale down the ages to which he responds with his dying breath “It’s too late for lies”.  If only he had found the redemption he was being offered.  He had became the most well renowned person in the region and yet the ‘front’ he had created provided him with no joy.  With the current celebrity culture and cult of personality this seems to me like an important message to hear.

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2 Responses

  1. It was a toss-up between this and the Golden Compass a couple of weeks back. We settled on the Golden Compass. I’m not really a huge fan of CGI – it’s OK in small doses. I like animation which isn’t trying to be something else. CGI can be very realistic, and I do admire the technical wizardry, but it falls just short of convincing me and ends up just looking weird.

    Still, sounds as though there is enough in the film to recommend it.

  2. It is a good tale. In some ways I wish it had been the same level of CGI as Lord of the Rings or The Golden Compass. When CGI is used to enhance live action it can be really good. As I say, once you can get beyond the fact it is completely computer animated and a tale from around the campfire it is good.

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