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December 04, 2007

Beowulf (2007)

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Robert Zemeckis - 2007
Paramount Pictures 35mm Film

Even though the films always fall short of the promise of the technology, I still like to see 3-D films. Part of the motivation is just to get an idea of the current state of the art of creating the illusion of depth, and of things ready to burst from the screen. This fascination includes taking advantage of a revival double feature of Creature from the Black Lagoon and They Came from Outer Space, as well as seeing the original House of Wax. There is discussion of a possible re-release of Hondo in 3-D, the way the film was originally intended. I even went to see Spacehunter: Adventure in the Forbidden Zone back when there was an attempt to bring back 3-D films in the early Eighties.

While probably not as over-powering as seeing it on an IMAX screen, I did make a point of seeing this newest film version of Beowulf digitally projected. Some of the intended effect was lost as the teenagers operating the Regal Theater in downtown Denver did not think it important to pull back the curtains for the complete wide screen. As could be expected, there were the usual flying objects, coins and arrows, coming towards the audience. But as good as the technology is, nothing made me duck in my seat as had happened when I saw Andre De Toth's House of Wax.

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More disconcerting was what was done with the actors. I'm sure Ray Winstone wishes at times that he had Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson's body in real life. Anthony Hopkins appears to have had his head transplanted on Brendan Gleeson's more portly frame. The usually attractive Robin Wright Penn looks more like Glenn Close. If Angelina Jolie comes off best in Beowulf, it is because she is her own best special effect. C. Jerry Kutner has an observant piece on women in the films of Robert Zemeckis in Bright Lights After Dark. Not only is Jolie seen in the flesh less than Winstone and Hopkins, but the CGI rendering of her body, eliminating nipples and genitalia, make her resemble a Barbie doll. Considering the frequent humiliations that occur to women in past Zemeckis films, a sexless Angelina Jolie is not surprising from a filmmaker who doesn't seem to like women who stray from the boundaries of strict domestication.

For those interested in filmed versions of the myth, the 2005 version, with the then lesser known Gerard Butler, is worth seeing. According to a person more familiar with the epic poem, this film is actually closer to the original epic. Zemeckis' version of Beowulf is closer to a Classics Illustrated comic than an actual classic. It may also be worth noting that one of the co-writers of the screenplay is Roger Avery. Some may recall that the film Avery co-wrote, Pulp Fiction competed with Zemeckis' Forrest Gump thirteen years ago for Academy Awards. With its story of the lure of gold and power, the epic of Beowulf could almost be seen as a parable about Hollywood.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at December 4, 2007 12:40 AM


uh, that's slightly mistaken. First of all, Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary's original (1998) version of the script follows some of the old language of the epic much closer than recent, and therefore more popular adaptations, such as Heaney's or 'Grendel', although they did choose to use some interpretations of the text that have been debated for a long time now (Grendel's mother, for example).

See this for an interesting take on the script.

Zemeckis' visualisations, well, are used to maximum effect to fill seats in theatres.

Posted by: Rohan Venkat at December 4, 2007 05:14 AM

This fascination includes taking advantage of a revival double feature of Creature from the Black Lagoon and They Came from Outer Space The first time I saw those two movies was on a double bill revival in Charleston, S.C. in (I think) 1979. What a coincidence. Do they always show these two together or something?

As for Beowulf, I just can't bring myself to get excited about it. I'm no big fan of cgi in any form but I'm sure I'll give it the inevitable look eventually as with everything else that comes out. But do you think it would have been better if they had just filmed it straight?

Posted by: Jonathan Lapper at December 6, 2007 07:38 PM

Universal distributed their two classic films as a package.

Would Beowulf been better had it been done more in the style of Jackson's Rings trilogy? Hard to say. What I do know is that CGI doesn't give me the thrill that I get from the low tech stuff of Ray Harryhausen.

Posted by: Peter Nellhaus at December 7, 2007 01:30 AM

I agree. I love low tech "old-timey" special effects. I think a part of it is a mixture of sensing a human hand at work (Harryhausen) rather than just computer programming and the ingenuity of it all (coffee grounds for locust swarms, miniatures, ink injected into water and filmed upside down for explosions, etc.).

Posted by: Jonathan Lapper at December 7, 2007 01:32 PM