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Beowulf



Beowulf arrives with motion capture suits, three hundred odd cameras, direction by Robert Zemeckis, a script by Neil Gaiman and Robert Avery, and a thousand youtube videos of Angelina Jolie's computer simulated breasts.

At the end of the film, I asked myself, in the car traveling back, why everyone was so fascinated by the simulated nudity of Jolie. Sure, it was pretty enough, but i didn't particularly understand why people in the cinema snickered or why they hooted or why, afterward, people would go to the effort of putting the scenes on the web. I'm straight. I like breasts. I like naked women. I should be more into it, yeah? I should be right there. Snickering, hooting, uploading, and telling you that I snickered and hooted and uploaded while wearing ridiculous 3D glasses. Perhaps if it had looked a little more real. Perhaps if I hadn't been subjected to about ten minutes of carefully shot scenes to avoid the toned and not really looking like Ray Winstone Winstone's Beowulf's penis. There's a mouthful for you. There's a pun. Lets all have a chuckle. I guess in the end you can say that I would have been more interested in the scene if, by the time I got to it, I wasn't thinking that, sure, you can show Angelina Jolie's computer generated breasts and ass, so long as you don't show her nipples--but it's fine to hint at the outline--and lets be real careful not to show any kind of pussy.

All that stuff is bad!

All that stuff offends us!

Anything we're born with should be hidden!

Oh, by the way, we're going to show you folks impaled on spikes, monsters getting their skin ripped open, and blood splashing all over you in 3D excess...

Stupid isn't just a word, y'know.

Eventually, I was forced to come to the conclusion that, in part, the fascination with Angelina Jolie's fake nudity was due to an acknowledgment on the audiences part that the film wasn't very interesting. Perhaps it was never going to be with Zemeckis as a director, but the film itself seems caught between wanting to be faithful to the original source, while also wanting to fit into the Hollywood block buster of hunting monsters, repenting for your bad deeds, the importance of being a good father, and showing some nudity that isn't quite real. Now, I should admit here that I haven't read the original source material, for I'm a bit on the lazy side and just never gotten round to it--those epic poem things require work from me, I'm afraid--so I'm not real up on how much the film has changed from the original, but I am under the impression that the original text was about the rise of Christianity--or not, as the comments say--and not as the film might have you believe, hunting down monsters, slaying them, fucking their mother, and then slaying the son you spawned in the smooth-where's-the-opening?-cunt of Angelina Jolie. Which is, whatever, you know--change the original text, don't, just settle for sure on it. The aforementioned Christian angle, for example, is a subtext within the film, and handled with all the fine craftsmanship of a brick through the window, which is kind of how the whole film rolls along, actually. The 3D bricks fly out at you. The problem, however, is that such things as this hint that the film would like to be something that it ultimately isn't, and there is almost an argument that there are two films in Beowulf, that of the monster slaying morality lesson about fucking beautiful women with no vagina and birthing villainous sons that you don't raise properly, and the second being that of the rise of Christianity and the loss of old religions and gods and ways. The latter gets virtually no play to it, and the former, as you might note, is something to be mocked a little, for hiding a woman's cooch and a man's schlong while showing me 3D blood letting is silly.

But what, you might ask, of the film in and of itself? The acting, the camera angles, and the script? The first is by the numbers, though John Malkovich appears to be in some kind of pain for his role, which may or may not be my imagination. There's nothing interesting in the angles or how the film is cut together, because, hey, it's a Zemeckis film, and none of them are interesting on that level. It's standard, by the numbers stuff, which is exactly what the script is like, moving between visual penis gags, a few jokes, some grunts for action, and no real style at all. This, perhaps unsurprisingly, adds to the overall feel of nothing within the film, of sitting through an empty, soulless adventure, in which a computer generated naked Angelina Jolie becomes the main attraction for the viewers, a metaphor even for the fakeness of what they have just endured, a realisation that nothing was going to ring true for them, and that they must now focus on Jolie to understand how they should process the film.

Of course, I suppose the film can be justified as a 3D experience, and I must admit, I do like a 3D experience, though outside wood, blood, and spears being pointed and thrown at me, there didn't seem to be any point in having it as a 3D film. Considering that I saw the trailer for Journey to the Centre of the Earth in 3D before Beowulf, however, it doesn't take a whole lot to rise above the usual offerings, I suppose, and I kind of doubt I'll be paying for that film.

Still.

Comments

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nick_kaufmann
Dec. 4th, 2007 02:56 am (UTC)
What I think is hilarious and awful at the same time is that Jolie's character is wearing stiletto heels. About a thousand years before they were invented. But of course she can't just be nude. That's not enough for the fanboys. She has to be in heels too!
angriest
Dec. 4th, 2007 03:05 am (UTC)
The stilleto heels were unbelievably ridiculous.

I liked quite a lot of Beowulf, but not that part.
benpeek
Dec. 4th, 2007 03:35 am (UTC)
oh, yeah. i forgot about that. i do remember thinking they were quite ridiculous.
ataxi
Dec. 4th, 2007 03:06 am (UTC)
"but I am under the impression that, oh, the original text was about the rise of Christianity and not, as the film might have you believe, hunting down monsters, slaying them, fucking their mother, and then slaying the son you spawned"

Nah, you're mostly wrong about that, IIRC. It's mostly about the hunting down, the tearing of limbs and then there's no mother-fucking, but there is mother-killing. And then there's another bit, with a dragon.
angriest
Dec. 4th, 2007 03:11 am (UTC)
Yeah, I was always under the impression Beowulf was just about the heroic monster-slaying. Most of the more complex parts of the screenplay were added in by Gaiman and Avary - for better or worse, I'm still not sure.
benpeek
Dec. 4th, 2007 03:36 am (UTC)
oh. well, right then. altered. i wonder where i picked that up from, then?
ataxi
Dec. 4th, 2007 03:47 am (UTC)
Oh, you know, just the background ignorance of the universe slowly permeating your sensory membranes. You get that.
benpeek
Dec. 4th, 2007 03:48 am (UTC)
yeah, it seems so.
benpeek
Dec. 4th, 2007 03:56 am (UTC)
actually, looks like i might have picked and mixed and mashed from round, if wikipedia is to be believed:

"At the same time, Richard North (Professor of English, University College London) argues that the Beowulf poet interpreted, "Danish myths in Christian form" (as the poem would have served as a form of entertainment for a Christian audience). [35] North states, "As yet we are no closer to finding out why the first audience of Beowulf liked to hear stories about people routinely classified as damned. This question is pressing, given [...] that Anglo-Saxons saw the Danes as 'heathens' rather than as foreigners."[35] Grendel's mother and Grendel are described as descendants of Cain, a fact which some scholars link to The Cain Tradition. [36]

Allen Cabaniss argues that there are several similarities between Beowulf and the Bible. First he argues, for similarities between Beowulf and Jesus: both are brave and selfless in overcoming the evils that oppose them, and both are kings that die to save their people. [37] Secondly, he argues for a similarity between part of The Book of Revelation (“Their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death, Revelation 21:8) and the home of Grendel and Grendel's mother. [38] Third, he compares the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke (when he pardons those who call for his crucifixion) to the portion of the poem when (before plunging into the perilous lake) Beowulf forgives his enemy, Unferth. [39]

Scholars disagree, however, as to whether the poem is ultimately pagan or Christian in nature. Robert F. Yeager (Professor of literature, University of North Carolina at Asheville) remarks that, "Beowulf offers eloquent prayers to a higher power, addressing himself to the “Father Almighty” or the “Wielder of All.” Were those the prayers of a pagan who used phrases the Christians subsequently appropriated? Or, did the poem’s author intend to see Beowulf as a Christian Ur-hero, symbolically refulgent with Christian virtues?" [40]"

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beowulf
ataxi
Dec. 4th, 2007 04:04 am (UTC)
Those academics sound like they're refulgent with extemporised bullshit to me :-)
benpeek
Dec. 4th, 2007 04:09 am (UTC)
they sound just like normal academics to me ;)
elenuial
Dec. 4th, 2007 03:10 am (UTC)
I don't remember Beowulf being about Christianity at all. I'm sure you could read that into it, but generally (as I recall), the poem was about this guy murdering a monster with his bare hands, then going to kill the monster's mother, because stopping the problem isn't enough -- he's got to beat the ugly out of the mother, too.

The last battle is between him and a dragon when he's old, and it has nothing to do with his previous battles. It's just so he can die killing more stuff all heroic like.

The poem has more to do with 300 than the Bible (not that I really think either should be put on a pedestal as Great Literature...). So, as I recall, the biggest difference was that it actually went with more sex and (comparatively?) less violence by including the shagging-the-Jolie angle and touches upon creepy Oedipal Nietzschean themes. Otherwise, the poem is all about some guy killing monsters. Not terribly deep.

Still, I haven't seen the movie so I can't really judge, can I?
benpeek
Dec. 4th, 2007 03:38 am (UTC)
well, fair enough then. i was just going off what i'd heard round from people, and it might've got mixed in with modern interpretations. no hassle.
angriest
Dec. 4th, 2007 03:10 am (UTC)
I'm finding it odd to discover so many people depreciating Robert Zemeckis as a director when he's one of the better mainstream Hollywood directors that's out there. Is it a rejection of Zemeckis himself - and his films, or a rejection of the forms of cinema he works in?
benpeek
Dec. 4th, 2007 03:41 am (UTC)
i'm not real sure how you can say he's one of the better directors, myself--he's best films are BACK TO THE FUTURE and WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT. hardly a sign of doing interesting or fascinating things, imo.
ataxi
Dec. 4th, 2007 03:52 am (UTC)
They're both creditable entertainments though ... and so *gasp* is Forrest Gump. Yeah I know it has problems. But I liked it the first time I saw it. Hey and looking at IMDB you can't go past a bit of Romancing The Stone, or What Lies Beneath.

It's not like we're dealing with Uwe Boll here ... Zemeckis is a proper workmanlike director of blockbusters, not a complete hack.

That said I won't be seeing Beowulf, but that's mainly because the CG looks shoddy as all get out.
benpeek
Dec. 4th, 2007 03:57 am (UTC)
sure, standard, by the numbers stuff. that zemeckis films to me.
strangedave
Dec. 4th, 2007 06:51 am (UTC)
None of those films are 'standard, by the numbers' blockbusters. They are just populist, but they are pretty distinct and interesting films as popular blockbusters go.
angriest
Dec. 4th, 2007 07:49 am (UTC)
That's my opinion, too. It's very easy to pick on a director for making populist Hollywood blockbusters, even if - like Zemeckis - they are remarkably innovative within the constraints of that form of movie.

The visual effects audio commentary on Contact was a revelation, and remains one of the best commentaries I've ever heard on a DVD.
benpeek
Dec. 4th, 2007 07:54 am (UTC)
well, i'll leave you to guys to the zemeckis love, then. the ship passed me by.
angriest
Dec. 4th, 2007 04:33 am (UTC)
Back to the Future has a fantastic screenplay, and Zemeckis directs it very cleanly and aims towards its strengths. It's a film I often use when teaching screenwriting because it has such well-formed foreshadowing - noticeable enough to immediately make it clear how it works, but just subtle enough that it doesn't slap the entire audience in the face the first time they watch the movie.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit was a groundbreaking film in how it married live-action and animated elements, and is filled with self-aware moments and acts as a sort of post-modernist deconstruction of the classic Hollywood cartoon.

Contact is, technically speaking, Zemeckis' masterwork, using visual effects in ways that Hollywood had not particularly thought to use them before. The camera work is what fascinates me the most in this film, with Zemeckis and his DOP using many visual tricks to form long tracking shots. I still haven't read Sagan's book, but as an independent feature film I think it's one of the best American films of the 1990s.

Cast Away is a remarkably bold film as well, with very little dialogue for enormous lengths of the film and a well-developed visual look.

Really the only Zemeckis films I don't like are The Polar Express - which remains a brave experiment in motion capture animation - and Forrest Gump, but then I hate the source material and story for that one rather than the way the material was handled.
benpeek
Dec. 4th, 2007 04:44 am (UTC)
see, to me, BACK TO THE FUTURE is nothing special. i like it, but at the end of the day, there's nothing but by the numbers kind of stuff in it. which is pretty much how i'll go with everything else of zemeckis--though i haven't seen CAST AWAY or WHAT LIES BENEATH, because neither appealed to me for various reasons.

i'll give that ROGER RABBIT had the ground breaking mix, if you say it is--i really don't know if people had done stuff before--and i liked it well enough as a kid.

CONTACT, however, kinda sucked. especially that end.

anyhow, agree to disagree and all that stuff.
angriest
Dec. 4th, 2007 04:50 am (UTC)
I think prior to Roger Rabbit, you're looking at films like Pete's Dragon or Anchors Aweigh, stuff that has very limited interaction between the animated and live-action characters, and certainly very little in the way of physical interaction, which is where the majority of Roger Rabbit's innovation was.

There's one aspect of the ending of Contact I don't like, which is the revelation that Ellie's video recording lasted for hours rather than seconds, because that pushes what happened to her out of the realm of personal faith - which was the point of the exercise - and into empirical evidence. Apart from that I though the entire climax was brilliant: clever, and certainly very brave considering how much audiences went ballistic about not being able to see actual aliens with tentacles and shit.
mattdoyle
Dec. 4th, 2007 07:02 am (UTC)
No computer-animated schlong?! I probably won't see it (no, not because there is no penis...i see many movies without penises, thankyou very much!) I wonder if Beowulf is hung? We will never know now, will we?! :P
benpeek
Dec. 4th, 2007 07:55 am (UTC)
the implication is that he is ;)
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