THE BEOWULF 3-D IMAX EXPERIENCE
BEOWULF is the new “motion capture” weirdly computerized sword and sandal 3-D movie from Robert Zemeckis. He’s using the same technology and directational style as POLAR EXPRESS but it will go over better because that one was for kids, this one has a bunch of stabbings and monsters and a part where Virtual Angelina Jolie gives a handjob to a sword, so that means it’s more sophisticated and adult.
Ray iWinstone voices the blonde he-man of the title. Anthony Hopkins 2.0 plays the old king, Robin Wright Penn’s likeness plays the princess from the fuckin Shrek movies, and John Pac-Mankovich does his usual distractingly weird performance as some asshole who is pissed off about something or other. Also you got Crispin Glover inhabiting the monster Grendel and a very good computerized duplicate of Angelina Jolie’s head as Grendel’s hot mom.
I guess they ran out of comic books and ’70s horror movies to remake, so this one is based on an epic poem from 700 AD. All I knew was a dude named Beowulf fights a monster named Grendel, so it was a fresh new story for me. But some 1300 year olds might say it’s raping their childhood, because apparently co-screenwriters British-guy and Pulp-Fiction-guy-besides-Tarantino throw in a pretty big reinterpretation. In this one the king fucked Grendel’s mom (take that Grendel!) and in fact is Grendel’s dad. And Beowulf fucked Grendel’s mom too (ooh, snap!) and the dragon he fights at the end is his son. Ha ha, your son is a dragon!
The weird thing is that this modernization of the ancient poem actually makes it more politically incorrect. I mean, that shit is fucked up. The whole story is about some dudes going to a cave and fucking a demon and then lying about it and killing their own poor bastard sons. On the surface they seem like fairly noble kings, but their way of absolving themselves of their past sins is to murder their own children. King Anthony Hopkins could’ve solved this whole problem if he would’ve bought Grendel some ear muffs and let him hang out at the castle. I know he’s a fucked up Elepehant Man looking giant with no genitals who likes to bite people’s heads off and hates merrymaking, but I’m sure if you get to know him he’s pretty cool.
The main villain is Angelina Jolie Robot as Grendel’s Mom (or “Beowulf’s Baby Mama” I believe they call her in the credits) and her brand of evil is to look real sexy and lure people in to fuck her. I’m not sure how it works because you can see that she has no vagina, but I guess they figured something out. Admittedly she does fly down to the hall and kill a bunch of dudes Predator style, but that’s only after they murdered her retarded son. She’s like Pamela Voorhees without the sweater. Anyway, the emphasis is definitely on “oh jeez, she’s so hot, how can I not fuck her?” The ol’ male fear of female sexuality. And the fear of the consequences of sex, and the responsibility of fatherhood. They cannot turn down the magical golden cave pussy, but then they’re ashamed of the sons it creates. I guess politicians have always been the same.
You know now that I think about it the main villain is not the king’s baby mama, it’s the king’s johnson. In fact, that would be a good title for the movie, THE KINGS JOHNSON. No apostrophe because there are two kings, it’s a double meaning. They would have to rename him Beowulf Johnson though for it to really work.
Actually I read on wikipedia that the manuscript of the original poem is not titled, it just has become known as BEOWULF. So in my opinion it was always meant to be called THE KINGS JOHNSON.
The Kings Johnson only think with their johnsons. The Queen (Robin Wright Penn OSX) seems like she’s supposed to be really nice and loving, but she gets passed on to Beowulf like property, and then he sleeps with some younger girl anyway. I mean he used to go around on adventures fucking mermaids and shit, so that’s the lifestyle he knows. If this whole thing was gonna turn out less tragic, one of these King Johnsons needed to man up and have a more mature relationship with his woman. The Anthony Hopkins King Johnson should’ve done the right thing and married Grendel’s Mom and helped her raise Grendel into a more respectful young man with more self esteem. I’m sure Grendel’s Mom would’ve settle down a little if she got married. She’s a smart lady and ahead of her time, she invented stiletto heels you know. I don’t think she could’ve breast fed Grendel though, unfortunately. That might be part of the problem with that boy.
Before I go on, I gotta say, you should go see this movie in 3-D right now. I can’t vouch for the digitally projected 3-D they are using in some theaters, but the Imax version is great. It’s a fun movie but the 3-D and the Imax sound is half of the experience. On video the stupid idea of using computerized dummies instead of human beings will be much more distracting.
See, here’s how the movie is made. It would be nearly impossible to film Anthony Hopkins making a speech in live action, so instead they have him make the speech while wearing specially designed scuba gear and with hundreds of little dots glued on to his face, and then they spend two or three years having a team of computer scientists create a multi-million dollar computerized simulation of him standing there making a speech. Through this miracle of technology he looks like rubber but he’s wearing a robe and not scuba gear! There is no trace of the scuba gear at all! Amazing! I don’t know how people even made movies before this was invented, must’ve been a huge pain in the ass.
So now the movie has some of the subtlety of an Anthony Hopkins acting performance, but with the not-being-real of animation. So it’s part of the best of one out of two of both worlds. This technology was also a good way to get Angelina Jolie to appear completely nude, although the technology is apparently not good enough yet to give her nipples or a vagina.
Like with POLAR EXPRESS, I sort of got a kick out of the creepy stiltedness of this completely misguided approach to animation. It’s a good novelty, like those Thunderbirds puppets they used to have. But I know that’s not what they’re going for, so I don’t know what the fuck they’re thinking making a movie this way. I love what Zemeckis does with the camera, constantly flying up to a God’s eye view, pulling back from the hall into the rafters, into the sky, into the clouds, and into Grendel’s cave for a closeup of the back of his fucked up head, all in one shot. Or the way in POLAR EXPRESS he followed a girl’s ticket as it flew out of the window of the train, got captured by a bird, trampled by wolves and fell off a cliff back into the train.
But is that camerawork really a good trade off for having characters that are an abomination against God? Yes, they’ve improved it since POLAR EXPRESS but it’s still distracting as hell. John Malkovich still looks like he’s either blind or not looking in the right place. Most of the characters have realistic heads and weirdly stubby, blobby bodies. Even the horses look kind of like dwarves. (Guess they couldn’t get a horse into scuba gear.) There’s a crowd scene that really creeped me out, because it’s so obvious that nobody in the crowd is really standing in the same place or looking at the same thing and nobody knows how to create a realistic standing-watching-a-guy posture. And things are always dropping or being carried or flying through the air with no sense of weight at all. How hard is it to just flip an actual gold coin? I guess it’s some of the same problems you have with live action movies these days, since so much is done with green screens. But what about the hair? When the characters are talking to each other should I really be ignoring what they’re saying and thinking they must have a hell of a conditioner in 700 AD to give their warriors such perfect, doll-like hair?
But I don’t know, maybe that was how they described it in the poem.
Also, I’m not entirely convinced that you can’t do shots like that in a live action movie with effects. Yes, it would be hard and require alot of computers, but I think you could do it, and probaly for cheaper. I mean, Peter Jackson did shots like that in LORD OF THE RINGS, following the moth around. The only differences are 1. Peter Jackson had to plan it before shooting it, instead of letting the effects people figure it out later and 2. it’s not as distracting and creepy.
So BEOWULF is a crazy and misguided movie, but it’s also a fun time. I enjoyed it. There’s alot of good spectacle here. Beowulf tells a story where he fights a bunch of sea monsters and it’s pretty crazy, he’s stabbing their giant eyes with his sword. The most hilarious shot in the movie is him tearing out from inside a giant monster eyeball, then puffing out his chest and yelling “I. AM. BEOWULF!!!” Top that, 300. It’s gotta be one of the most violent PG-13 movies ever made, but they shoulda gone for rated-R just for the sake of nudity. Not just because of Angelinabot’s Barbie anatomy, but because Beowulf fights Grendel butt naked, and there’s no way to take it totally seriously when they keep using conveniently placed objects to cover him up. Obviously Zemeckis didn’t see EASTERN PROMISES. That’s how it’s done, fella.
The best part of the movie is Grendel. I expected a big mean monster, but you immediately feel sorry for this guy. He’s giant but he’s pathetic, he’s a fucked up Elephant Man looking motherfucker with parts of his insides exposed, weird bumps and slime and scales all over him. He has super-sensitive hearing so the loud noises make him flip out, and he’s screaming and crying the whole time he’s attacking. The design of him is blobbier and cartoonier than he oughta be but it’s still a great monster because you get the tragedy just looking at him. Poor guy, it looks like it hurts just to be alive. Plus he still lives with his mom. And she’s always bringing new boyfriends to the cave. Not fun.
And I think Zemeckis, despite all the shit I’m giving him about this stupid process, is doing alot of cool stuff with it. I like his storytelling. I love the scene where Grendel comes back up to the cave and his mother is talking to him, and the whole scene is from the point of view of the mom, coming up out of the lake, one of those killer’s-eye-view shots like in horror movies. But then at one point a 3-D tentacle comes out from behind the camera and caresses Grendel’s deformed face. Pamela Voorhees never did that.
In fact, I think this movie is gonna give more kids nightmares then any other in recent years. Poor fucked up fifteen foot deformed naked man kicking the door down, running around screaming like he’s on a speed binge, tearing people in half, biting people’s heads off, impaling them on chandeliers, carrying their limp dead bodies up to a cave so his mom can fuck em. Grendel will be the WIZARD OF OZ flying monkeys of 2007.
So maybe it’s not a great movie, but it’s a good theme park ride. I think I might go on it again.
UPDATE: I did go on it again, and I can now vouch for the Real-D digital 3-D version. Looks like the digital projecting technology is finally catching up with the hype. It looks real nice, quite possibly a little clearer than the Imax version and for me it had less ghosting. I still prefer the giant screen and the sound system of the Imax though. But either way if you can see it in 3-D it’s gonna look good. Also I thought of another alternate title for it: CAVES WITH BENEFITS.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.