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Beowulf

dir: Robert Zemeckis
[img_assist|nid=49|title=I Will Kill Your Monster, Then Sleep With Its Mother|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=471|height=201]
This doesn’t happen very often, but between my two viewings of Beowulf, my opinion of the flick has undergone a complete 180 degree shift. I hated, hated, hated, hated this flick the first time I saw it. Now, I think it’s pretty good.

Surprisingly good. It’s like I watched two completely different flicks, and, in truth, they weren’t the same flick. One I watched in 3D on the big screen at an IMAX cinema. The other, many months later, was viewed sober sitting on a comfy couch in my lounge room, and was the better for it, I’ll admit.

They seemed like completely different films, or maybe I was two completely different people. I found 3D Beowulf ludicrous, painful, aggressively shallow and an irritating waste of 110 minutes of my life. I remember being disgusted with myself for having thought it would be remotely watchable, let alone worthwhile.

Plus I was horribly hungover when I watched it, which is a very rare occurrence for me.

It felt like I was watching one of the Shrek movies, only with less intelligence and meaning at play. The characters annoyed me, the voices of the actors playing these mannequins annoyed me, the stupid plot and crap jokes annoyed me, and the ending bugged me no end.

This time I thought it was technically impressive, with an interesting extrapolation of the original epic tale of Beowulf, with an amazing array of detailed character work both computer generated and in terms of the well-thought out script. And it was pretty bloody entertaining as well.

And so smutty, so very very smutty. I am old enough to remember Benny Hill and the heyday of British television comedy smuttiness, and this flick recaptures that aesthetic, as far as I’m concerned, far more importantly than capturing the essence of one of the oldest tales in the English language.

Sure, Beowulf is one of the oldest etc etc, but it’s not a particularly interesting tale if told verbatim according to the story. Compared to the latest antics of celebrities and movie stars, and action films starring Will Smith, it’s downright dull.

In Denmark, the Danes are Down on their luck, because their fat, alcoholic, sex crazed king Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins) is cursed. He’s cursed because he’s been a naughty boy. His long suffering wife Wealthlow (Robyn Wright Penn) rolls her eyes and sighs a lot. They party in this large log cabin like it’s 499 AD, drinking and singing songs, and otherwise wassailing and carousing.

The noise of their party disturbs one of their neighbours, being the monstrous Grendel (Crispin Glover), who, reluctant to call the police to register a complaint, decides to venture forth to confront the partygoers himself in order to ask them to keep it down. He’s got work in the morning, you see, and he needs his sleep.

Things get a bit out of hand, though, and lots of people perish in ugly ways. Strangely, Grendel chooses not to kill Hrothgar, even though he has ample opportunity. The call goes out for a Hero to come and kill Grendel, to lift this dark curse on these ugly people.

Beowulf (Ray Winston) and his band of merry raping warriors sail forth from the land of the Geats (Sweden) in order to help out Hrothgar. They pursue glory and the gold Hrothgar has promised to anyone who’ll rid his kingdom of this monster.

Beowulf, in the space of a minute, says both his name and the phrase “I will kill your monster” three times. He says it more later on, it’s just I noted it there because I thought maybe he was trying to make sure that people didn’t confuse him with the guy who was coming over to do the drapes or to unblock the drain or to put the shine back onto someone’s codpiece. You know, the famous old codpiece shiner.

Speaking of codpiece shiners and Cockney bootblacks, Ray Winstone initially uses the most put-on Cockney accent I’ve heard since Audrey Hepburn played Eliza Doolittle in the early section of My Fair Lady. And the funniest thing is he’s actually got a Cockney accent anyway.

But this is live action CGI, epic storytelling, so everyone and everything acts “big” in every section. Even the humour has to be big. When Beowulf decides to fight Grendel, he decides to do it buck naked in order for it to be a fair fight. So when he is jumping around and fighting, they use increasingly absurd ways to hide his presumably monster cock from the “camera”.

When Grendel is mortally wounded, everything thinks it’s game over, let’s get this party started up in here. But even monsters have mothers. And fathers.

Beowulf is forced, by dint of needing to secure his place in history, to follow up on Grendel, and finds himself confronted with the vision of evil gorgeousness that is a CGI Angelina Jolie. She seduces him, but it’s not with the promise of enjoying her ample charms: she seduces him with the promise of power and wealth. And all he has to do is fuck her.

It’s a tough choice, and, needless to say, it’s one with dire consequences.

The changes made to the original story, and I know this will be blasphemous to students and scholars of ancient history who might happen upon such a statement, actually enhance the story. The changes give some depth to the overall story not present in the original, which actually improves in the telling, and makes Beowulf’s tale both an exploration of what it means to become a legend, and a tragedy arising from hubris.

There’s even stuff about the rise of Christianity replacing the old pagan ways, with characters debating whether they should pray to the Roman Christ the Jesus god, as well as Odin and the others. Grendel, Grendel’s mother and even Beowulf represent an ancient and demonic past which will soon be paved over to make way for megachurches, televangelists and people trying to be more judgemental in their daily lives.

The action has, in many cases, been filmed with live actors and had CGI placed on top of it. In other words the flick has more in common with Final Fantasy, Polar Express and Monster House, rather than something like The Incredibles or Ratatouille. In some cases the detail is stunning, in others it looks like you’re watching a real pretty and very plastic ventriloquist’s dummy mouthing its words woodenly. Faces and hair are amazingly rendered. Even breasts are amazingly rendered. One extended scene has a serving wench being ogled by a warrior who spends a lot of time marvelling at her swinging, pendulous breasts as she cleans a table.

Which, you know, looked really real. It was quite hypnotic. But a lot of the other action is cartoonish, and lacks gravity, making it look childish. It’s a pretty neat (usually) melding of childish elements and adult themes. That is ultimately what this film represents to me: the potential for movies to be made that use the latest in CGI tech in order to tell stories that aren’t necessarily aimed at eight-year-olds or people as dumb as eight-year-olds.

I can’t pretend that other people will find the film as enjoyable as I did, at least this more “adult” version, but I will say that of the movies made thus far with this technique, this is pretty much the best of them thus far. I’m not sure I entirely understand the rationale behind the whole thing, since it seems needlessly complicated versus the other flicks they’re making where the humans are real but all the scenery is CGI (Sin City, 300). Still, it does make sense that they can have a character that sounds like Ray Winston but looks buff, young and muscly, none of which applies to Ray Winston these days.

As for Angelina’s appearance in this flick: some people already consider her to be the pinnacle of pulchritude, the perfect playmate. I don’t, since I find her lips like strips of liver frightening in real life, but the representation her is like someone taking Jolie and perfecting her beyond what any mortal should ever achieve.

Except of course for the strange Barbie-like doll shot of her downstairs regions in a scene as close to full frontal nudity as any one of us is ever likely to ever see, barring Brad Pitt putting pictures of her on the internets. That was just odd.

Also odd was the bizarre scene where Beowulf’s “magical” sword, the least subtle metaphor for ‘cock’ in cinematic history, turns to liquid when she touches it, pooling on the ground as he gets a strange expression on his face. Wonder what was going on there.

It’s not a case of arrested development, or being a fantasy fanboy that colours my opinion. I assure you, I’ve seen enough dire fantasy crap to make me hate the genre and hate the people involved with the white hot fury of a thousand dying suns. I actually think the script, from Neil Gaiman and Roger Avery, is a decent one, and that the story is impressively put together, visually arresting and well paced for its length (which is nearly two hours), width and girth. Maybe I'm crazy, but I was entertained.

Or maybe I just am a sucker for this shit

7 times few men, heroes or cowards, could really say no to Grendel’s mother out of 10

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“The sea is my mother! She would never take me back to her murky womb!” - Beowulf

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