Beowulf: Please CSI the CGI

I’m sorry I couldn’t write about this sooner. I did see the press screening on Friday night at the IMAX at Universal Citywalk with Hedgebeast, but I wanted to talk to Neil about it first before I posted anything publicly and have one of his assistants find this review online. I remember when Neil started writing this script, so I also know how important it is to him…

I’ll start with the story, which was itself very powerful, as the story always is. I loved what Neil and Roger did with it, keeping in mind that the Christian monks who preserved the tale probably edited out all the raunchy bits. We don’t know what the raunchy bits were, but I think turning Grendel’s mother into a seductress is a beautiful example of restoring the tale to something more like its original state. My heart broke for Grendel himself — which isn’t too weird considering I usually wind up feeling sorry for the monster, but in this case I think everyone can feel a bit of Grendel’s torment as his simple head aches. I could dissect the father-son relationship dynamic stuff, but fascinating as that is to me, it might make you snooze. So, instead I’ll just say that the characters, the jibes against the budding religion of Christianity, and even the raunchy songs were all wonderful and terribly apropos for this retelling of the Poem. The songs were especially terrific, from the ballads to the hilarious, bawdy chant of the Geats that brings Grendel (Neil and Roger wrote that one). Really great stuff.

As for acting, it’s not quite fair for me to comment on Ray Winstone. We have a mutual friend and I had to shake him and another British friend of his at her party as they tried to follow me that night to Lair de Sade. The whole episode was so funny that I laugh whenever I see Ray. To say I enjoyed him as Beowulf was an understatement. He was so over-the-top blustery like he is in life that I loved Beowulf instantly. The acting all around was great…

…well, when I could tell, anyway.

And indeed I doubt that the acting ever wasn’t good, as I absolutely adored the casting. As I was explaining to Neil, the problem was that the CGI and 3D technology was so problematic at times that it obscured parts of the story. For starters, the 3D caused constant ghosting, as well as side-to-side blurring that ruined any action sequence with movement in that direction. It all became one huge blur. The up and down motion, though, was crystal clear. So whenever Grendel leaped up and crashed down, it looked very impressive. The main action sequence with the dragon fight was breathtaking with the 3D, mostly I think because there wasn’t much side-to-side movement. Neil suspects that we had problems with this because we were seated to the right of the screen. (He mentioned another position that was even worse.)

3D aside, the CGI never completely worked for me. You know that window of suspension of disbelief? Because the images vacillated from incredibly realistic to animated to somewhat flat looking, that window kept opening and closing rapidly. I was reading an article in Entertainment Weekly about how Zemeckis wanted to bring the technology of Gollum to the whole film. Unfortunately, this didn’t succeed as well as Gollum in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings. To me, while there were certainly some super cool scenes, there were a lot of moments where it couldn’t shake that video game look.

So, on one hand it was a cool experience to get to see a 3D movie made with newish technology made by people I know and adore. But on the other hand, said newish technology was just not what I’d hoped. Still, this story really should be seen on the big screen. Maybe you’ll luck out and get a center seat with a great view. Go early, get that seat, and tell me how it went. (And if this review makes you nervous, catch the matinée.)

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