A Wolf Named Beo

Prague has a pretty cool IMAX 3D cinema, so yesterday I went and saw Beowulf. I don't really know what to think of it. First I was positively surprised that it was indeed 3D. Not just one scene in the end as I had expected (like they did for one of the Harry Potter movies), it was 3D throughout.

Pretty fascinating, although it is hard to read 2D subtitles superimposed on a 3D image. I could never quite focus on them. Apart from the fact that the subtitles were in Czech. So why read them? Well, my Anglo-saxon is a bit rusty... But what Grendel said sounded almost understandable, English and German aren't that far apart from a common root.

Another thing I hadn't expected was, that they would shoot the whole movie with motion-captured actors. Does that make it easier to turn it into full 3D? Possibly, I don't know. You can recognized John Malkovich and Angelina Jolie. But still, they looked like Shrek's royal household with a RAM and CPU upgrade. And why the hyperrealism in some scenes? It made my hair stand on end.

OK, I don't want to complain, it was very well done, considering it's animated. 3D characters and rendering have come a long way in the recent years. When I watched Final Fantasy for the first time, I thought it was about dead people hunting dead animals while they themselves were being hunted by ghosts of, you guessed it, dead aliens. I was waiting for the characters to notice that they themselves were dead. Then somebody told me they were supposed to be alive. Oh well.

There are people who say, don't comment on the puny details of the animations and enjoy the ride. Yes, the landscapes and action scenes are indeed impressive (neither realistic nor natural, but impressive). But it feels shallow (shallow 3D...?) which makes it hard to enjoy: It totally breaks the immersion. As opposed to movies that grasp you and make you feel like "a little hero" at the end, this feeling immediately ended in Beowulf when the end credits rolled. It is difficult not to have an adrenaline reaction when 3D arrows keep flying into your eyes... It's not the movie that excites you, it's just your reflexes.

--- Spoilers follow ---

The depiction of Grendel was quite modern: He's not evil, he is just a poor baby monster, and nobody understands him. (Maybe because he spoke Anglo-saxon babytalk?) The designers did a nice job of making him appear strong and fragile, shocking and cute at the same time. He was also very similar to Gollum, which is not a very novel idea.

Another pity was how heartlessly they hollywoodized the original saga. Sorry, adding value by adding gratuitous (and at the same time censored!) naked scenes only works in the US. ;-) And these scenes were silly. Silly as in Bart Simpson slapstick! WTH?

Zemeckis' version also implies that Beowulf wasn't a hero, but a liar. In the original story, Beowulf brings Grendel's head, kills the demonlady (Grendel's mother) without witnesses, and nobody knows where the dragon is from. In the new version, Beowulf brings Grendel's head, but then he only claims to have killed the demonlady, and the dragon turns out to be his and the demonlady's secret lovechild... Okaaay...?

The idea is not that innovative that it required a whole new movie. Also, these three sentences I just wrote, that was the plot. There is nothing else of substance. Yes, 3D effects are cool if you have never seen a 3D movie before, but I see no reason why anyone would watch this movie in 2D? At the end you get a 30 second Ingmar Bergman moment -- watch out! Late incoming depth! -- and you wonder, will the new king commit the same mistake or learn from it? But then, sorry, at that point I got distracted by the realization that the wide sheet of melting plastic at the new kings feet was actually supposed to depict the waters of the ocean, and then the end credits already started...

Verdict: Can't really recommend it, but if you've never seen IMAX3D, you might as well start with something that does not distract your attention too much by having a plot. ;-) Did you notice those 3D movies never have any depth, content-wise? It's always "Sharks attack!", "Dinosaurs attack!", "Aliens attack!", or "Mars rover is attacked by alien sharks and dinosaurs! (On a rollercoaster!! And it's haunted!!)" \*tsks\*

PS: And now for something completely different: Google News now speaks Czech. Is that new? Never noticed that before.


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