Movie review: Beowulf

Caveat: I’m sure someone somewhere will disagree with me on this. This is just *my* feelings on this story/movie. It’s not meant to offend anyone.


ImageThis is the 2007 animated version. You all remember the story from high school: a king awakens a monster who wreaks havoc on his mead hall. The king sends for a hero and Beowulf comes and saves the day. Kills the monster only to anger his mother who then attacks. And they all drink a lot of mead and boast.

Despite the fact that this is the best known and in some circles beloved story of all time (right up there with the Bible), strangely enough, it is possible to at once make it easier to swallow this Medieval fish tale—and ruin it.

Okay so the story goes as above. Grendel comes, destroys the mead hall, kills a bunch of people but oddly, won’t touch the king. Ashamed, when the word gets out of this strange occurrence the king calls for a hero.  Beowulf comes, screaming and full of himself from across the sea, eyes the queen with more than a little lust, drinks a lot, tells a lot of cockamamie stories (most of)  his listeners believe, and thrusts his sword (and damn near everything else) at the camera (did I mention the directors decided to buy into the 3-D gimmick?) and screams: “I am BEOWULF! I’ll kill your monster!” a lot, like that alone means victory. :p

Then he does just that to end up ticking off Grendel’s mother (whose grief is played way over the top). Turns out, maybe sorta kinda the king left one itty bitty detail out: He’s Grendel’s father and the mother? She’s an evil harpie. The king slaps Beowulf on the shoulder with a “good luck, my boy!” and sends him off to Grendel’s cave to face the mother, be raped by her (depending on your point of view) so she can later give birth to their next foe: a dragon. (The king gets a deformed wretch, Beowulf gets a beautiful dragon—do you see where the favor lies here?) Meanwhile, in a complete wtf moment I didn’t remember, the king throws himself from the battlements.

So, Beowulf takes over the kingdom, gets the queen he’s been lusting for and all the goodies that go with being a king, except he still can’t die, which apparently he wants to. Meanwhile somewhere out there the baby dragon grows up, and finally comes after the humans. Beowulf and he do battle, Beowulf rips out his heart, and falls to his death.

It’s an heroic story for sure, but… I’ve always wondered if the Medieval audience it was intended for even dismissed it as a little over the top. Because let’s face it, Beowulf talks a good game, but I always thought he was the kind of fella who was all talk, with nothing honorable about him (he steals the king’s wife, after all).

I was never a huge fan of the story and I had an instructor that flat out ruined any chance I might ever have to love it. But my hubby’s reading it right now so we gave the movie a shot. Storyline-wise the movie lives up more or less to its namesake, from what I recall.

Here comes where the whole thing, that could’ve been done well, utterly failed. Well, two bits. They could’ve done the whole thing by putting the, arguably otherwise great cast (Anthony Hopkins, Brendon Gleeson, Angelina Jolie, Ray Winstone, Robin Wright Penn) in period costume and shot it live action and only leave the CGI for Grendel and Mama’s harpie suit. But no. They decided to do the whole thing in 3-D. *headdesk repeatedly* Doing so caused it to feel like a video game, made all the characters look like creepy dolls, and let’s not forget the added touch of thrusting everything at the camera to play on the hot shit 3-D gimmick.

Listen, Hollyweird, 3-D died out a long time ago because it was so corny. Time and “upgrades” hasn’t made a difference. It’s still corny, and worse, like I said above, you still fail to get it right. All you end up with is a piece that feels and looks  like a video game, creepy dolls included—whose graphics will be passé and old fashioned in about two–five years. Sadly for them,Beowulf (the movie)’s  fame didn’t last that long.

And don’t get me started on Grendel. Personally, and my husband being the bigger fan of Beowulf right now said it first, Grendel is the big, fat FAIL of this movie, in our opinion (though friends of mine were more ticked by Grendel’s mother). Don’t get me wrong, Crispin Glover is good, he pulled off the motion cap as well as the other actors, (if you can call motion cap pulling off acting), but the decision—whoever’s it was, Gaiman’s or the director’s? Shame on you guys! Yes, the story was written 1200-nearly 1500 years ago (Crossely-Holland says we’re not sure which) for a barely literate audience who spoke a Middle English dialect.

But fellas, this ain’t 1300-1500 years ago!!!

I’d venture to guess that only maybe 1-5% of your audience (and I may be being generous saying that many) don’t understand Middle English. Don’t you think maybe it would’ve been a good idea, if you had to insist on making Glover wrap his tongue around the language, you could do him–and your viewers–the favor of, oh, I don’t know, captioning his speeches? For gods sake, man! He’s the most important character in the first half of the story, and no one can understand a word the poor thing mushmouths—er, grunts—er, says.

If the 2001-era movie lost an audience (and they got slew of  huge glaring FAIL reviews on this thing) that might’ve been the culprit. Yeesh! I don’t know how many ways to say this: it’s one of the things that drives me absolutely bonkers in literature and it didn’t fail to do so here, if your character needs to be understood DON’T PUT DIALECT IN HIS MOUTH!! It just doesn’t work!!!!

*puts hammer down*

Anyway, yeah. Love the actors and gods know they tried, and while  it sticks to the story from what I recall and I applaud them for that, it gets a big thumbs down for animation and gimmickery.

But I never cared for the loudmouth that is Beowulf. As Kevin Crossely-Holland says in his introduction to the translation of the poem:  “It is rude and rough… singularly cheap in construction… thin and cheap…’ And, yep, the movie isn’t much better. If you’re in the mood for creepy dolls, go for it. Otherwise you’re better off with the book.

Beowulf in print. Gutenberg Project.

Beowulf translated by Kevin Crossley-Holland.

Beowulf translated by Francis Barton Gunmere

Beowulf on Wikipedia

Beowulf on IMDB

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