Friday, March 7, 2008

Ok, so "Beowulf"

Don't get me wrong, the animation talent at Sony Pictures Imageworks is impressive. Beowulf does dip into the "uncanny valley," but not nearly as often as "The Polar Express" or "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within" (bonus points if you've even heard of that second one). In fact, there are a few scenes in this film that look very, very lifelike. But just like those other super-realistic animations, I finished "Beowulf" without a good answer as to why anyone would go this route with the visual style.

Or maybe I should say "lack of style," since there's not much room for it when you're recreating things the way they actually look. There's no space for the kind of edge "The Incredibles" had with it's slick comic motif, plus you even lose the cinematographers eye that's present in a live-action movie. It's the worst of both worlds.

I wonder if some animator was up late one night, patiently waiting for his workstation to finish processing 1/100th of a second of a Angelina Jolie's individually-rendered hairs waving, and thought to himself, "You know, we have reality. We already have it. Right here. Why am I creating this actress in minute detail when we actually HIRED her?"

Oddly this is the same reaction I had to much of "The Lord of the Rings" novels. And again, don't get me wrong, I love LotR as much as the next geek. But it's the best story ever written on the subjects of walking and eating. A good fifty percent of it is: "And then they walked for a while, and then they caught a rabbit and ate it. Then they walked down a hill or something, then they had some more lembas."

There was a point where I physically shook my copy in mid-sentence and shouted "Look, J.R.R., I'm not sure you get what the selling point is here. I EAT everyday. I don't HUNT ORCS on a regular basis. Not a lot of WIZARDS or TALKING TREES in my life, ok? Let's step it up a little."

. . . But my beefs with the animation aside, "Beowulf" is ok. Nothing special, but it's alright . . . alright, and unintentionally hilarious.

First, Beowulf (the character) is completely naked for his fight with Grendel. I guess this decision was supposed to show us how brutal and fearless our hero is, but you'll be too busy laughing to pick that up. See the entire scene uses the old "obscure the naughty bits" gag you may remember from Austin Powers, and it's nothing but hilarious. I honestly can't imagine how Robert Zemeckis thought any audience could take this epic battle seriously, and not just giggle while wondering what convenient obstacle would be used next.

Note for the next film Rob: Using random objects to cover a person's naked body is funny. It's always funny. It steals every scene.

And yet, to me, that's not the best comedic moment that "Beowulf" has to offer. There's something about the way this dragon just pops up over the wall that makes me laugh again and again. Watch it three or four times in a row, it only gets better.

I keep imagining him saying "HELLO!" in a goofy, nasal voice.

Now, I do have to give "Beowulf" some credit, though, it nails the combat. Watching Wulfy climb around a dragon in mid-flight, yanking its head back by a chain, is entirely awesome. Of course, it's also entirely borrowed.* Someone in Hollywood clearly has a Playstation 2.

Normally when film critics say that a movie "looks like a video game," I take it as the jab that it is. But seeing how effective these "game" shots are at giving real scope and energy to the action scenes in "Beowulf," I think it's an accidental compliment.

I thought, when I was watching "I am Legend," that its "over the shoulder, down the gun barrel" views sure seemed familiar. And as time goes on, I'm starting to think this is a trend.

*Unlike this footnote gag, which is completely original:)

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