Monday, November 19, 2007

'300' Minus 299

Before the first scene, when the overwrought, bombastic soundtrack began to play in the dark theater, my daughter looked at me and laughed "oh my god this is going to be awful." Wow, was she ever right! Beneath the horribly garish facade of Robert Zemeckis' wretched Beowulf lies a classic tale of epic heroism and tragedy. Too bad it was smothered by stupidly macho posturing and a Beavis and Butthead sense of "sexy." I'll be the first to admit that Angelina Jolie's cgi tits look fantastic, but that doesn't quite get the job of making a movie done.

I really wanted to enjoy this film. There were a few good scenes, to be sure, and battle with the dragon is terrific. But on the whole, I would be remiss in my duty if I didn't give you the bottom line: save your money. If you want to see a decent movie about the heroic Geat, have a look at Beowulf & Grendel.

7 comments:

J G-W said...

Hm. You really disliked it that much? I'll have to check out the Gerard Butler movie (I guess I'll add it to our Netflix queue).

But my evaluation of the animated Beowulf would go something like this:

Animation: C
Voice Acting: B
Writing: B
Story: A+

That gives it a B average in my book. I think I want to add it to our video collection eventually, just for the story.

Some cool graphics and nice looking art. But yes, Angelina Jolie's tits were REALLY annoying. We thought the Austin Powers-esque covering of the Beowulf family jewels was more distracting than if they had just shown us some animated nads. Or given him a frickin' loincloth. I don't care. And I really hate watching a CG movie where, every single minute you're watching the movie, you're thinking, "Hey, I'm watching a CG movie."

But I thought the story -- essentially about the seduction of worldly power, and the way it corrupts everything we value -- was timely and well told. I'd actually go see the movie again, just for that.

Knight of Nothing said...

I didn't think it worked at all. The Austin Powers cover-the-privates was ridiculous. I was actually kind of insulted by that. The "I. AM. BEOWULF!!" outbursts made Butler's performance in 300 seem nuanced. And Sir Anthony Hopkins' King Hrothgar was grotesque in the way that a Heavy Metal magazine villain is grotesque. Not a memorable moment in his career.

As far as your grades... I don't disagree with your curve, but I'd be much harder on the middle two subjects. I'd give the the voice acting a C and writing an F-.

That's what was ultimately so disappointing to me: the story really is great, and they had all this A-list talent, but for me the film was absolutely crushed under the weight of bad dialog and juvenile direction. Do we really need to see a hero pop out of a sea-monster's eyeball? Do we need to see Unferth beat his slave in every scene to know he's not a very nice guy? And so on...

I'll be quite interested to hear what you think of Sturla Gunnarsson's version of the story. It is far from perfect, but it is a far superior film in every way, if you ask me. Grendel in particular is given a very different treatment.

J G-W said...

The things that seem to have annoyed you most I thought were strengths from the viewpoint of story.

Hrothgar -- in this telling of Beowulf -- is a man whose life has been ruined by lust. He betrayed his queen and his nation. His illegitimate union with Beowulf's mother is, I believe, a metaphor for the "devil's pact" many leaders of nations make, the hunger for power that leads them to abandon their principles. He is not supposed to be an admirable character.

Beowulf -- in this telling -- IS a posturing fool. He's powerful, he's canny, he is a great warrior. He is also full of hubris. When the day can be won through brute force and wits, he wins the day. But when what is required is internal discipline, the ability to say no to temptation, he fails. He makes the same mistake his predecessor Hrothgar made. He sacrifices his principles in order to make the same devil's pact.

Beowulf can only redeem himself through self sacrifice. He does so at the end of the movie -- in a stroke of delicious irony -- by severing his own arm in order to reach and pluck out the heart of the dragon. In other words, Beowulf sacrifices himself in exactly the same way he won his victory over Grendel.

I also liked the touch at the end, where Beowulf's thane consciously covers up the truth of Beowulf's story. He consciously lies about what he knows of Beowulf's betrayal, and chooses instead to perpetuate the myth of the heroic Beowulf, the "slayer" of Grendel's mother.

This twist on the story made it far more interesting to me than if it had just been a straight, "heroic" telling of the Beowulf legend.

It sounds like the Gerard Butler version takes a slightly different twist that looks at cycles of violence. I like that too, it sounds interesting.

By the way, I rather liked the way this (animated) version portrays Grendel. I actually felt sorry for him. His character becomes much more sympathetic, especially when you learn he is the bastard child of Hrothgar. His raids on Hrothgar's kingdom look much more like the desperate attempts of a rejected child to win the rightful affection of his father; or rage at being excluded from the noisy mead hall celebrations...

Knight of Nothing said...

I admire your reading of the film! Certainly if I saw it the way you did I would appreciate it more. But to me, the souless CG figures rendered the characters hollow and inhuman, and I was left with their garish excess.

I realize Hrothgar is not supposed to be admirable, but he is supposed to feel the weight of remorse. I can't decide if it is the CG medium or clumsy writing that made him seem so uninteresting to me.

As far as Beowulf, again, for most of the film it was difficult for me to read him as anything more than just another macho action hero. Boring! He was most interesting as an old man, but even then he was infused with a little bit too much of the big budget action hero.

I saw what the movie was trying to do, but it didn't work for me. In the end I just was not satisfied by the way the story engaged me.

Finally, I'll admit that I was spoiled: the Grendel in Gunnarsson's film is absolutely brilliant - a fully realized character. That made the Grendel in this incarnation seem like an afterthought.

I'm really curious to hear your thoughts on the two movies after you've seen the other one. Maybe we should watch Gunnarsson's version together!

J G-W said...

Well, that's why I gave the movie a "C" for animation. That "C" might be broken down as follows:

Artwork/Scenery: A
Character rendering: F

I HATE CG films that try to create "real-life" characters. They NEVER work. Final Fantasy, Polar Express... ACK. I hate the look of these films. The human characters always look dull and lifeless (even creepy, which was a common complaint I heard about Polar Express--a critical failing for a film that's supposed to be cheerful, bright, and kid-oriented). As I noted above, you never watch these things without being aware every single minute you are watching that it is a CG film.

CG works best for inanimate objects, scenery, machines, even sometimes animals. The only character I've ever seen it work for was Gollum in the LOTR movies. I don't know how they pulled that off. I still think there's a real, living Gollum somewhere that they actually filmed.

Maybe real life CG characters don't work because the human brain is hard-wired to study and analyze facial features, and is too good at recognizing fakes to be fooled even by highly skilled CG wizardry.

But in any event, I agree it detracts, and unfortunately for your enjoyment of the movie appears to have been a severe distraction.

I still stand by my "B" for voice acting. It was OK, but not good enough to overcome the inherent weaknesses of the visual medium.

The Gunnarson version is on our Netflix queue. Maybe I'll write a review of both films after we've seen it.

J G-W said...

BTW, Göran bought the Seamus Heaney translation of Beowulf, and I've been reading it. Never read it before, except for brief excerpts in high school. So at least the film inspired me to want to read the original.

J G-W said...

We saw Beowulf and Grendel. I also (this past weekend) finished reading Beowulf.

I wouldn't say the Gerard Butler version was necessarily better than the recent animated feature. They each had their strengths and weaknesses. Both departed BIG TIME from the original story.

Interestingly, they both departed in similar ways. In both scripts, Grendel's reign of terror exists because of sins committed by Hrothgar. In both scripts, Beowulf commits the same sin Hrothgar committed because he is blinded by his own weakness. In the end, however, Beowulf makes some form of atonement (in the animated version, by literally sacrificing his life to save his people from the dragon).

I suppose the Butler version develops the Grendel character a bit more, but not that much more. He's certainly more human looking, but I didn't necessarily find him more sympathetic. I sympathized with both Grendels... In the earlier film, he is orphaned by terroristic violence; in the later film, he is a sensitive child, abandoned by his father.