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‘Beowulf’ (2007) Film Review: Motion-capture statement

“Beowulf” ambitiously blends CGI, motion-capture, and 3D technologies to bring a new level of hyperreality for the viewers to enjoy.

Everybody knows, or at least, has already heard about the epic poem “Beowulf” in school, or perhaps, with the prior 2005 live-action offering “Beowulf and Grendel” starring Gerard Butler as Beowulf. This time, the Robert Zemeckis-helmed “Beowulf” utilizes the latest motion-control technology available to tell a tale approximately 1,400 years old in an astonishingly new way — a sensory animation experience appealing to the eyes and ears in 3D glory.

Seeing its IMAX version, it offers a brand new 3D experience leading the way to what the future technology can further offer. Zemeckis’ foray into the world of actor-based computer animation makes the classic tale of “Beowulf” worth a look. This is what makes the film something to be curious about. This movie takes tremendous artistic license to blend CGI, motion-capture, and 3D technologies to bring such level of hyperreality that has never been seen before in cinema.

Boasting the sort of acrobatic cinematography that can only be achieved in the digital domain, the process pumps up the narrative with adrenaline in its quest for over-the-top and action-packed sensory overload using the 3D format. The way stuff like swords, spurts of blood, arrows in mid air, and golden coins come to the spectator, and the way bricks, twigs, and ocean waves seem to come out of nowhere from behind, all these generally reward the viewers who keep their wide-opened eyes behind their 3D glasses. At a certain point, the overload tends to slightly hurt the eyes with all the active 3D elements seen; but this is considerably minimal and bearable enough, especially to active viewers and 3D adventure seekers.

The technology is sophisticated enough to amaze the audience of today, amidst the fact that there are still plenty of rooms for improvement in terms of achieving a “solid and seamless 3D glory.” As Zemeckis takes the viewers to a sixth century Nordic setting via motion-capture animation and digital painting, this bloodthirsty depiction of the Old English epic creates a visual sweep with propulsive action. It makes the audience fully immersed in the whole new rendition of a fictionalized ancient world.

The use of realistic perspectives is impressive. Depending on one’s taste, a person can either appreciate or question the various details of the filmmaking process: the near-photorealistic quality of the visuals, especially the tighter shots; the Shrek-like 3D look of the wider shots; the digital wax looks; the perfect bodies of the iron-clad warriors, their brooding stares, and the glassy beads of their eyes; and the interesting physical resemblances to the movie’s actors, complete with the soft plastic skin looking like the performers’ avatars. Some may find things fake and stiff, some may find things cool and astounding. There are those who may feel the technical part greatly supports the emotional side of the film. There are also those who may see the technical presentation overpowering the subjective side of the picture and creating an emotional void with it.

Whatever stand dominates, one thing is clearly noted: the new technology offered by this fast advancing filmmaking process promotes excitement on what’s in store for the moviegoers of the future. Zemeckis and his army of digital wizards are successful in this method of creating movies using real actors’ appearances and movements as basis for their characters. They make their statement from the depth and clarity of vision that is deeply immersive. to the point of embedding the audience with a fresh cinematic interpretation of the oldest tale in the English language.

The mocap (short for the motion-capture technology) turns the portly, 50 something Ray Winstone into a buffed demigod: the fierce, young warrior Beowulf. As the story moves on to years and years after, the unfulfilled man with a maintained chiseled body amidst wrinkles and white hair apparently shows his near-tangible sense of loss, guilt, and regret in life.

Zemeckis has really fashioned a fantasy flick beyond the bounds of what realistic sets and prosthetics can offer. Even the golden goo barely covering Angelina Jolie’s (Grendel’s mother) sexy nude scene helps push a classification/rating friendly enough to show the film to the younger cinema audience.

Adapted by writers Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary, the take on the screenplay for this mythic poem makes good statements. More than just sexing up their interpretation for that Hollywood pop epic appeal, the narrative follows the mythic Viking hero emerging from the sea to get rid of the bloody, raging, pus-covered monster Grendel (Crispin Glover). This robustly stylized offering speaks for many universal issues including the sexiest animated character (Grendel’s mother) representing humanity’s demons, whether they be gold, power, glory, and many others. The story also involves issues about war and chaos. Themes of heroism, bravery, and loyalty are also apparent. As a whole, this motion picture comes off as a cautionary tale about the pitfalls of undeserved fame. On a more direct character level, this latest rendition of the Anglo-Saxon poem also deals with complicated and disturbing father-son and mother-son issues.

People can relate to the story, even the 21st century type of celebrity or authority, where the riches, the lust, and the star status won’t totally buy off the mistakes, guilt, and regrets of the past. It also depicts the uneasy tension between the era’s Christian and pagan influences, even to the point where the spiritual underpinnings show stressed out warriors wondering if they should turn to Christianity for better luck. Moreover, the world of sex and swordplay, where lust is an all-consuming force and served up for the audience’s delectation, utilizes the issues of morality, karma, self-fulfillment, and glory. Furthermore, it presents the concepts of protecting one’s kin and defending the integrity of one’s country against any and all dragons; yet succumbing only to the seduction of irresistible beauty with an evil tail.

“Beowulf” makes up for a curious and entertaining experience, having a fresh take on filmmaking and animation. The technology still has a long way to go. There are lots to improve both in the technical and storytelling aspects. But indeed, this film is a big step forward. This type of cinematic offering gives the actors and actresses the chance to look and act in ways beyond what they could in a live-action movie.

Rianne Hill Soriano
Rianne is a director, writer, educator, and consultant in film and commercial productions. From mainstream essentials to independent flair, she knows the drill in making entertaining and well-meaning productions. She can lead a pack passionate about extreme action and technological edge; she can breathe an endearing and sentimental style for a team with a sweet disposition.

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