Thursday, February 21, 2008

I AM BEOWULF! YOU HAD BETTER BE ENTERTAINED! (Paramount) Out this coming Tuesday. (*****5/10)

I am giving Beowulf the benefit of the doubt here. It is a movie that relies mainly on visuals, and the only TV I have where I can actually see the picture and hear the full sound is in the shop. I guess when I bought it, it had a faulty screen, and the warranty does indeed cover it. I sent it into this shop a week and a half ago. I called them yesterday to find out when I could have it back, and they said they thought perhaps, with some good luck, they might just have the parts they need to fix it within a month. Good thing I have that Blu-Ray player and pay for those HD cable channels. So, I had to watch Beowulf on a TV with a shaky, tiny screen and only one channel of sound. Which means that I will give the movie the benefit of the doubt and assume that the visuals ARE amazing and that the sound is impressive. Hey - anyone who has seen this film - can you tell me something? Angelina Jolie comes out of the water naked in the middle of the film, right? And she is all metallic or something, and there is no definition and no nipples. But at the end when she comes out of the water, there are nipples. Right? I couldn't really tell.

But the animation seems strange to me. This movie is done sort of like 300, where it is live action actors which then have animation done over them. This worked with A Scanner Darkly, because it was constantly obvious. Right now, I'm not terribly certain why these movies are doing this. At least in 300, you forget the technique about halfway through the film. And then you just let the mindless entertainment wash over you. With Beowulf, it seems to come and go. Sometimes the actors look like real-life actors, and other times they look like computer animations from a kids' movie. Which is bizarre. It also means that those computer-generated characters walk like the characters in Shrek. Shouldn't they walk like, well, real people? Because they ARE real people? Again, I will assume that I thought this simply because of the lousy TV. Although I doubt it.

There are some cool scenes in the film, and it is fairly easy to make some decent entertainment out of the story. Not, of course, by following the original classic story line, but simply by pitting a mythic hero, Beowulf, against an indestructible monster, Grendel. After that, I guess people assume they can just do whatever they like. Much like 300, this involves a lot of yelling and flexing. The giant Grendel shows up first, and rips people apart in a Dansih banquet hall. As far as monsters go, he is more reminiscent of The Elephant Man or that kid in Mask than he is of any truly frightening creature. We watch him slink back to his lair to be comforted by his mother after his rampages, and I guess we're supposed to feel some kind of sympathy for him? I guess. Then Beowulf shows up. For about half an hour after his arrival, I was expecting the punchline. I mean, this guy couldn't possibly be for real, or played straight. He kicks open every door, flexes, screams "Beowulf!" at people...he's like that kid on your high school football team who has permanently screwed up his brain with steroids, and can't control the volume of his own voice, and the only word he really has command over is his own name. So he yells his own name over and over to get pumped up for that big football game. Then gets ejected for fighting on the first play. Don't do 'roids, kids. I've actually known this guy. He is now in prison.

Beowulf decides that since Grendel is unarmed and has no armour, that in order to make things fair, he will have to face him completely naked. This leads to an incredibly comical series of camera shots that cover up his wang with various objects, a la Austin Powers. I really don't think it is meant to be funny. I think it is meant to suggest that Beowulf is hung like a telephone pole. The objects obscuring his junk are a sword, a spear, a mace...anything mean-looking and long. God, I hope it was done for comedic effect. Otherwise, it was the dumbest thing in the whole movie. So the woman looks at his wang and almost faints, he lies down naked among his men while they drink and carouse, and he waits for the monster. Then defeats Grendel, rather easily, while still being naked and still having those crotch-obscuring shots. Which makes the fight rather implausible. Grendel could possibly have won the fight had he not spent so much time putting his arms and legs in the right places so we can't see Ray Winstone's computer-generated penis. Poor Grendel. And I'm still waiting for the punchline.

Then we have naked Angelina Jolie. Only, she's a cartoon. A very obvious cartoon. And there are no nipples or any kind of definition whatsoever, because that allowed Beowulf to keep it's PG-13 rating. You see, in movies such as this one, all kinds of blood and gore are OK, because it is basically a cartoon. (In Kill Bill, Tarantino changed some scenes to black-and-white, and others to anime cartoons, so that the film would still be R-rated and not NC-17.) So you can show Grendel ripping guys in half, drinking their blood, chewing off their heads, and it is still PG-13. However, if you put nipples into the mix, this film would have been slapped with an R. So Angelina Jolie looks like the T-1000 from Terminator 2. Well, in it's metal form, not it's Robert Patrick form. Completely smooth, with no features at all, except for her face, which is a cartoon, and therefore not nearly as hot as she ought to be. And that's the scene everyone seemed to be raving about.

There are many scenes that made me laugh out loud because they really did look like a set-up to a punchline. Ray Winstone's Beowulf is a character begging to be mocked, yelling his own name at anyone who will listen, bragging about himself at every turn - this is the guy who, in any other movie, would be exposed for the fraud he is, and would receive his comeuppance. But in this movie, it just means he's that much more heroic. If this was all it took to be a hero, Terrell Owens would be Superman. TERRELL! And while his performance is consistently laughable, so too is the monster Grendel. He rips a body in half, and then he cries, he drinks some blood and then covers his ears because the shrieks drive him nuts...apparently he was "played" in the film by Crispin Glover, but he's just a giant computer-generated freak, and as such could have been "played" by me, my grandmother, a six-year-old, or Terrell Owens. And during the final, climactic battle scene, there is a dragon incinerating the world. It gets to the Danish castle where Beowulf's wife and young concubine are hiding, for some reason, on a bridge. When the dragon appears, it pops it's head up over the bridge in the same manner one would use to attempt to scare one's younger sister by thrusting a sock puppet up from behind the couch upon which she's asleep. Boo! It then tilts it's head comically for some reason, before burning up the place with it's fire-breath.

And John Malkovich is there too, apparently to provide some kind of human face to evil. He is set up, through the whole movie, as the dastardly back-room dealer who will usurp the king and take power himself through some kind of unscrupulous deed. But then he and Beowulf have a very laughable confrontation, he admits Beowulf's superiority, and they bond. But we're still given the feeling that this show of good faith is insidious and devious on Malkovich's part, that he doesn't mean a word of it. And then...he just keeps showing up through the movie, and nothing happens. He still looks and talks evil, and in this cartoon world of characters that must obviously mean he IS evil...but he stops doing stuff. Maybe his talk with Beowulf convinced him? Or maybe the film crew forgot he was evil. My money is on the latter. Based on what I saw, Beowulf gets 3 stars out of ten. but I'm giving it an extra two assuming that it would be far more visually brilliant were I to have my good TV back. If I could truly believe that the intention of Robert Zemeckis and his people was to make us laugh, that the intent of the movie was satirical, it would get 7 stars. Which means it's campy enough for the bad-movie fans out there to really enjoy it.


  1. If a movie isn't good without its eyecatching visuals and special effects (read "decoration") it isn't good. I'll take your review at its original 3 stars. In fact, from the way you described it, I'm surprised you gave it *that* many stars!

  2. If they meant to make us laugh however, it gets seven! (I really don't think, however, that this was the intent.)