Why have a movie about heroics where there is not a single person who embodies the supposed ideal? It may have been meant as a critique of the concept, but if so it failed miserably. The script was a mishmash of half-articulated ideas. A barely developed theme of the effects of storytelling on the truth ought to have been heeded. The poem has kept its resonance over the years because it deals with timeless topics like heroism, mentoring, honor and ambition. This one has Beowulf roar the ultimately meaningless words, “I…am…BEOWULF!” What does that name mean? By the end it seems that his life’s supposed to be a legend, but we know it’s all lies, so what can we have but contempt for those who believe it?
What was the point of all the pneumatic breasts other than adolescent wank? In case we had any doubt, we know now for sure that modern Hollywood film makers have even less regard for women than Anglo-Saxon monks, because at least the latter actually thought women had a purpose beyond sexual titillation. Not so this team. Women are only of interest as sexual prizes. We even have the suggestion that wives and mistresses would get along if they just had a chance to chat heart-to-heart (naturally with the suggestion that perhaps this will lead to a guilt-free three-way for the husband). Wealtheow in the poem sets standards of behavior, commands the men and reins Hrothgar in when he steps beyond propriety, deftly balancing both his honor and Beowulf’s. With all the digital breasts on display, it is likewise ironic that the other subtext is all about impotence. This script robs the father figure Hrothgar of most of his offspring and all of his glory. He’s a buffoon from start to finish. Jolie as Grendel’s mother (as designed by John Bolton) is an adolescent dream of sexless Barbie doll sexuality: smooth, hairless, flawless and dipped in gold with stiletto heels actually part of her body (heel spurs gone wild?). Robin Wright-Penn’s lovely face is turned into a bland approximation of Hollywood “beauty” and loses any sense of attractiveness.
The effects: yawn. They worked on the eyes, but motion capture still looks like a video game. While playing a video game at least you actively insert yourself into the action, but it’s harder to do with the passive movie viewing experience. Sure, the dragon episode looked cool enough (about like the dragon sequence in Goblet of Fire), but the people look like pudgy wax work balloons bouncing along, hands never quite touching what they pick up. The ridiculousness of the naked fight scene (mistakenly believed to be “in the text”) required exposing Grendel’s lack of genitalia (which they tried to “explain”) and, as Variety’s review put it, resorting to Austin-Powers-esque techniques to hide Beowulf’s alleged genitalia. He probably has none — the movie was rated PG-13 despite outlandish violence. It’s the American way: violence good, sex bad (although endless teasing of a sexual nature is okay, thus endless balloony bosoms on parade).
Minor quibble of interest to few but me: really, they couldn’t make the harp look like a Saxon harp?
Anachronistically they inserted Christianity into the narrative (in the poem, the narrator is a Christian looking back on his ancestors) only to identify it as the killer of the age of heroes. Far be it from me to defend Christianity, but that’s pointless as well as reductively simplistic. But really, the less said about the violence to the source story or the era the better (a ginormous stone castle..in Denmark…in the 6th century? not a wooden mead hall?). You’d have thought they would at least replace the original with another story — not just 3D arrows and swords. Ironic then that the whole exercise seemed entirely pointless. I thought it would at least be fun. Nope.
I’m curious to see what my students think: they’re probably going to the big mall tonight. Maybe they will find it more fun — they have said that their friends seem to think it looks like a kick ass movie. We shall see. The film is clearly meant to capitalize on the popularity of 300, a trifle I did enjoy because 1) it had a much smaller amount of adolescent male-oriented sexual titillation [and a great deal more adult female sexual titillation!] and 2) it gave us characters who were real actors if digitally enhanced (e.g. David Wenham‘s six pack abs) and had character! It wasn’t all bombast and cool fight scenes.
The nadir of Beowulf adaptations still remains Lambert’s Beowulf, only because it lacks even technical competence. This one nearly challenges it on most other points.