Beowulf a visually stunning experience, but a dull movie
“Beowulf” is a pretty straight-forward story: The buff and boastful warrior Beowulf (”played” by Ray Winstone of “The Departed”) must fight and defeat the demon-monster, Grendel (Crispin Glover), who is terrorizing King Hrothgar’s (Anthony Hopkins) realm. Beowulf later must face the monster’s mother (Angelina Jolie) who is an even more terrifying and powerful monster (and Lara Croft look-alike).
Competing for your attention are big battles involving heroic and sometimes naked warriors, oozing monsters and fire-breathing dragons, not to mention the over-usage of a semi-nude, digitally-enhanced, gold-covered female demon with a square-ish face reminiscent of bee-stung-lipped Jon Voight, all offering feasts for the eyes and not too much for the brain.
Well, that’s not completely true; the movie does have a weighty message regarding humanity’s pride, lust, and greed, and the consequences that follow when indulging in temporal pleasure for temporal glory. A power-wielding, gold-dripping and naked Barbie doll version of Angelina Jolie sums up the temptation toward these deadly sins when she offers Beowulf everything he’s ever wanted.
Amidst all of the dragon-slaying and jock Nordic rabble-rousing, the blood-curdling cry of ‘the sins of the father’ rings loud throughout Beowulf’s kingdom years later, calling him to face up to his past sins (see Numbers 32:23). I think director, Robert Zemeckis, along with co-writers, Roger Avary (”Pulp Fiction”) and Neil Gaiman (”Stardust), try to convey a simple “pride goes before the fall” message, but their message is lost in all the visual lasciviousness.
Speaking of pride, “Beowulf” isn’t a likeable character come to think of it. He’s a haughty fool, strutting around exaggerating his mighty feats of monster-slaying and frequently declaring “I am Beowulf!” at the top of his lungs. I wonder if he’s ever met King Leonidas of Sparta?
For the young male target audience, “Beowulf” pushes the limits of a PG-13 movie, getting away with much dismemberment, disembowelment and semi-nudity. Zemeckis’ clever misdirection emphasizes gore, butts, and boobs under the veil of the movie’s unrealistic blend of animation and weird, live-action, motion-capture technology, also used in Zemeckis’ previous film, “The Polar Express” — another movie with interesting visuals, dead-looking ‘actors’, and a somewhat boring story.
Not that “Beowulf” is totally boring. While I could’ve done without Beowulf’s need to fight in the nude against Grendel, the “RealD” experience allows for in-your-face effects like pointy swords, monster tails, guts and slobber, and yes, even Beowulf’s butt. However, “Beowulf” is very self-conscious of its 3D world, spending a lot of time floating through prickly forests and damp caves, portraying illusions of depth while reminding us of how fake everything really is.
I wonder how interesting the visuals would be if it weren’t on a big screen and in 3D. If you’ve ever seen “Spy-Kids 3-D: Game Over” or have experienced the 3D shows at Universal Studios, you’ll know what I mean. The effect wears off after a while, and you just want something to blow up or get killed so you can stay awake.
The movie was a visually stimulating experience, but I couldn’t help but think of “Shrek 4-D” and how it was almost better because it was shorter. “Beowulf” may draw comparisons to films like “300” and “The 13th Warrior”, but only as a reminder that these movies do a better job of wowing us with the use of real people and stronger stories.