Beowulf is one of the few mandatory reading assignments that I actually enjoyed back in high school (the others are: Paradise Lost and MacBeth.) An over-the-top hero putting the bloody smackdown on some equally over-the-top monsters…what’s not to love about that? I USED to think that a movie based on Beowulf would be a slam-dunk for me to like it. The SciFi channel proved me wrong on that one, but let’s not go there. Also, since I’ve got a soft spot for CGI and 3D rendering, a computer-generated rendition of the Beowulf tale should have been an instant hit. At least for me.
Well… not quite.
The Beowulf movie isn’t bad, it just is isn’t nearly as good as I was expecting. I’m tempted to call it disappointing, but there were still parts of it that I enjoyed quite a bit (like Angelina Jolie’s rack, for instance). It’s just that there are also parts that I not only didn’t care for, but that didn’t belong in the movie at all.
It’s fair to say that the plot takes some liberties with the original story. It starts out pretty faithful to what I remember, but just after the midpoint of the movie it veers sharply into new and completely unecessary territorry in a blatant attempt to pad the movie for time and add some (unwanted) drama. But instead of just making the main character more “human” within the confines of the story, Hollywood’s version changes what the entire story is about. Instead of a celebration of glory and heroism, Beowulf is now a flawed hero who lets his own lust for glory and Angelina Jolie’s stunning CG-rendered boobs lead him to depression and tragedy. Not that I blame him, because those boobs are fucking amazing, but it’s not QUITE the story I remember from high school.
Okay, I’m a writer and I know enough about stories to know that the original Beowulf tale isn’t really suited for the big screen or a full length novel. It’s too short. The end of the original story (with the dragon) seems to have absolutely nothing to do with the rest of it. And more importantly, the main character is shallow, one-dimensional, and doesn’t grow or change during the entire story. He just kills monsters extremely well. Hollywood needed to make the story into… you know… a real story. So what they’ve got now is a shallow one dimensional character who doesn’t grow or change during the entire story; he just kills monsters extremely well, enjoys boobies, and likes screaming his own name as if we’d somehow forgotten who he was. Huh? Why change the story at all, then? Just to make it longer? Hell, if THAT’S all they wanted then there are a whole lot more entertaining ways they could have done it.
But they did manage to do quite a few things right.
For one: Grendel. Grendel made this movie for me. Not the MILF demon or the dragon… Grendel. Beowulf is a pretty hefty dude, so a monster capable of challenging him has to be a cross between The Hulk and Jesus, right? What I got was not almost… not sort of… but the EXACT opposite of that. When Grendel debuts on the screen, the first thought through my mind was: “…the fuck!?” Then the blood and severed limbs start flying in one of the most glorious scenes I’ve witnessed on my TV in a long-ass time, and I watch a LOT of action/horror movies. (Note: I was watching the Director’s Cut, your mileage may vary).
But then they turn right around and ruin the whole thing by having Grendel’s big battle with Beowulf happen while Beowulf is completely bare-ass naked… for no fucking reason at all. Sure, it’s accurate to the original story and the big man spouts off some lame-ass reason for stripping down, but everyone ELSE is wearing clothes and fighting with swords and arrows like normal sane people. Beowulf? Naked with his bare hands. What’s worse, even though the man is built like The Juggernaut (Bitch!), he fights more like Yoda… and I mean that in a bad way: Flipping around the room, bouncing off the walls and swinging on the light fixtures naked like some kind of Sonic the Hedgehog softcore porn. At this point in the movie, I turned to my wife and said: “You know, I do believe I have NEVER see this much bare man-ass in any movie, ever.” The wife agreed.
Grendel’s mother is suitably awesome. The artists managed to make her look even better than the REAL Angelina Jolie, and that’s saying a lot. Unfortunatlely she is a non-character and you don’t see her much at all. Oddly enough, her best scene is the final scene in the movie where she is both hidden from the neck down and totally silent. Her one facial expression contained more drama and character than all of the other characters in the entire rest of the movie combined. Squared.
The CGI was pretty impressive, with two notable exceptions: The queen looked retarded. Not a little bit retarded… but a LOT retarded. I mean, I’d still hit it… but I’d feel bad afterward. And Beowulf’s facial expressions never quite seemed right. Even on the movie poster he seems to be confused more than anything else, and I don’t think that’s intentional. On the other side of the spectrum, the dragon at the end was good, and the flaming bridge sequence is memorable, but brief. This movie made me want to fire up my rendering programs again. As if.
+10: Great visuals, espescially the sea-monsters and the fight at the end.
+5: Angelina Jolie+CGI=MILF
-10: Unecessary deviation from a pretty solid story.
-5: Naked man-ass.
-2: Do demons not have nipples, or did I just blink at the wrong time?
I was glad I didn’t pay to see this in the theater or actually buy the DVD. As a rental, it’s entertaining. It’d be even MORE entertaining as a free download.
Hollywood didn’t manage to completely ruin the Beowulf story, but they did a fair amount of damage to it and did so for no justifiable reason. They could have achieved their goal of a feature-length film without fundamentally changing the theme of the story. Still, the movie looked good and was only a *little* boring in the middle, so I’d say check it out.