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Castlelake

Beowulf - flawed heroes and hot monsters

Posted on 2007.11.25 at 00:05
Current Mood: geekygeeky
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Went to see the movie Beowulf last weekend - in 3 D no less and thought I’d put in my two cents about it. While it actually exceeded my expectations (which weren’t high), I didn’t think it qualified as a great movie. It was, however, entertaining. Lots of action, blustering heroes, and fabulous monsters, not the least of which was Angelina Jolie’s seductive characterization of Grendel’s mom. (Yum!) If you are familiar with the original poem, you’ll discover that the movie differs from the original in a number of key ways. For one thing, no way did Grendel's mom look like Angelina Jolie. LOL. Certainly every generation reinterprets the classics in new ways, which inevitably say more about our times than about the times in which they were written. So what does it say about us that the modern reinterpretation of this epic tale portrays the "heroes" as flawed men who succumb to the lure of power, violence, and sex, particularly that sex stuff? The monsters are wonderful though, especially the dragon. And wow, the final battle with the dragon is spectacular.

People have raved on about the quality of the CGI effects in which the animated characters, based on the real life actors, look almost real. For me, it was a little disconcerting, and more like watching Sims or a video game than a movie. While I’ve often been wowed by the quality of the graphics and animation in modern video games, in this movie I found them a poor substitute for real actors. I would have preferred to see real actors with the CGI blended in, as in LOTR. But I guess that would have required Ray Winston, who played Beowulf, to actually work out to develop that six-pack. LOL. And the 3D effects were fun, you know, the spears and arrows and such coming right at you.




Of course you all know that the original Beowulf is an epic poem in Old English composed sometime between the middle of the 7th and end of the 10th century. Although the poem was written in England, it talks about events in Scandinavia that may partly be historical (minus the monsters) and date to around 500 A.D.  The use of language in the original, even in translation, is stunning.   What I didn’t know until I looked it up is that the only known copy of the poem was nearly consumed in a fire in 1731 which singed its pages.  About twenty years after that near disaster, the ms found a home in the British Museum.  Makes one think about all the other unknown literary treasures that have been lost to us over the years.  But I digress.

The hero of the poem, Beowulf, is a Geat from an area in southern Sweden.  Upon hearing of a great reward offered by King Hrothgar to anyone who can rid him of a monster named Grendel who comes to his hall at night and slaughters his men, Beowulf travels to the land of the Danes to do battle with the monster. 

In the original story, Beowulf kills Grendel and then when the hall is again attacked by Grendel’s enraged mother, Beowulf follows her to her watery underground home (welcome to my Underground Lair), and kills her.  Triumphantly, he returns to his own country.  The last part of the poem takes up many years later when a dragon plagues the land and an aging Beowulf once again must prove himself a hero, which he does, although he dies in the process.

The poem has a strong old Testament Christian overlay onto what were undoubtedly older pagan stories.  The demon Grendel is said to be a descendant of Cain.  Beowulf is depicted as a true hero who over the course of the story matures from a young man who sets out to do heroic deeds for glory, and later, as an old man, to preserve his people.  “That was a good king,” the poem says several times.    

The movie ties all three of the monster-killing episodes together (I won’t spoil it and say how) in a way that I think makes good sense in terms of making a coherent narrative, but as a result the message of the story is considerably altered. In this movie Beowulf is a blustering braggart who is then conquered by Grendel’s mother, a seductive demoness played oh-so-deliciously by Angelina Jolie.  Somewhat chastened by his failure, which he never admits and in fact lies about, Beowulf attempts to atone for his sins by slaying the dragon.   (Lots of Oedipal stuff in here.)

The movie also departs from the Christian messages of the original.  At one point one of the characters asks if they should pray to the new god, Jesus Christ, in addition to the old ones and someone, I forget who, I think King Hrothgar, says, “we don’t need gods, we need a hero.”   In addition, the dragon burns up the Christian church.  So much for that new-fangled religion.

The calibre of the actors does a lot to help the movie.  It’s hard to go wrong with Anthony Hopkins (King Hrothgar), Angelina Jolie (although I could do without her Dracula accent, the same one she used as Olympia, Alexander’s mom), and John Malkovich (Unferth).  Another aside, Crispin Glover played Grendel’s voice, there isn’t much left of his face in the character.  Anyone know what else he’s been in?  He played the crazy assassin with a thing for hair in the movie Charlie’s Angels and also George McFly, Marty’s nerdy father in Back to the Future. 

For reasons that don’t make much sense, the movie Beowulf chooses to fight the monster in the
nude. In the original, Beowulf fights Grendel with his bare hands but not bare-assed.  I must say this heightens one’s interest in the proceedings and increases the cringeworthy aspect.  I certainly wouldn’t want to be leaping on a monster’s back and landing that hard on all my dangly bits.  Ouch!!  Then all those objects, spears and helmets and such, that appear just in time to strategically obscure certain body parts a la Austin Powers actually make the scene funny.  I wonder if it was intentional. 
               
Other nods to the original included people singing heroic lays in both modern English and in old English.  Grendel speaks in Old English, which is why you can’t understand what he says and here I just thought he was mumbling.

Interesting too that the stories people tell in this anti-heroic tale are untrustworthy. When one of Hrothgar’s men, Unferth, challenges the boastful Beowulf’s ability saying that he was beaten in a swimming race by a better man, Beowulf explains that the reason is that he was beset by sea serpents. When Unferth says sarcastically, I suppose you were attacked by 20 serpents, Beowulf says no, it was only nine. That makes the story seem true until Beowulf's man Wiglaf says in an aside, “last time it was three.”  Our boastful hero does learn humility and redeems himself in the end with valorous deeds.  But we are left with a chilling vision of our heroes' inability to resist temptation.

All in all, I thought it was entertaining and worth seeing. And by all means see the 3D version with the silly glasses.   

More pics:


Grendel's mom rising from the mere.  Swamp witches never looked so good.


Yeah, Beowulf had a hard time resisting this one.  I love the Alien-like tail.


CGI version of Ray Winston as Beowulf



Best pic I could find of the way cool dragon

Comments:


Talullah
talullahred at 2007-11-25 10:19 (UTC) (Link)
Ouch! Complete depilation down there! ;)

I was giggling out loud reading most part of this, especially the nude fighting part. I wonder if he's also had complete depilation - that would make the bumping and squashing of the danglies even more painful. *sniggers*

I've never read Beowolf - always thought the English level would be out of my reach, but I have read a bit about it - I took an interest after reading another adaptation, Michael Critchon's "13th Warrior" which was funny and at times pretty much brilliant (though not the movie, unfortunately). This is why when I saw the trailer I cringed a little, but I will eventually see this version, when it gets here.
elfscribe5
elfscribe5 at 2007-11-25 18:52 (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, it's like she's wearing a skin-tight wetsuit with a little boob enhancement so they're not squashed. As far as Beowulf's danglies, well the parade of objects that appeared just as the right moment made it impossible to tell if he's also had the same depilation treatment.

Re: Beowulf, yeah I'd read it just eons ago. About a year ago I purchased a new translation that everyone was raving about by Seamus Heaney and while I haven't read it all yet, it deserves all the accolades. If you do decide to read it, I'd recommend that one. And re: The Thirteenth Warrior, I saw the movie and don't remember much about it, except that it started well and then disappointed. I do remember they tried to give Grendel a real historical explanation by making him into a tribe of raiders who wore bearskins or something like that.
Later my dear
Talullah
talullahred at 2007-11-25 21:11 (UTC) (Link)
I'll make a note for the Seamus Heaney translation. I'm thinking of buying a lot of books online for xmas so maybe...

Anyway, the book for 13th warrior has a much more interesting explanation for Grendel and the tribe that is shown with him, which is that they were the last remnants of Neanderthal - maybe it's the science geek in me, but I find that brilliant, all the more because he introduced the concept with these pedantic little footnotes as if he was really analysing an old text. Pretty funny.
Kei
keiliss at 2007-11-25 13:56 (UTC) (Link)
Oh yes I will certainly see this when it gets here. Angelina with a tail, nude monster-fighting, a dragon.... and it has John Malkovich. I'm sold. That pic where she's rising out of the water is stunning.

I've only read Beowulf once - read aloud it has passages that make the hairs on my arms stand up, but overall I found it hard work. That was years ago, though. Maybe it's time for the second attempt.
elfscribe5
elfscribe5 at 2007-11-25 18:55 (UTC) (Link)
Hi Kei,
Yeah, the movie definitely had its moments. Although they cut away from Beowulf and Grendel's mom way too soon. LOL. As I said to Tal above, if you do decide to read the original, go for the translation by Seamus Heaney. Very readable and the language is marvelous.
(How's the SS project going?)
Kei
keiliss at 2007-11-26 00:31 (UTC) (Link)
I'll put that on my book list, thanks.

(SS - is finally being written. If you promise not to laugh, I'll send you the story outline :| )
elfscribe5
elfscribe5 at 2007-11-26 00:42 (UTC) (Link)
Not a smile, I promise.
amalc at 2007-11-25 16:42 (UTC) (Link)
A question: do you have to see the movie with those 3-D glasses? When will they advance enough in movie technology to do 3D without this implement? This has been around since the 50's after all - it's about time some advancement is made on it. I read an interview where A. Jolie said she felt "exposed" when she saw the movie - now I see what she means though her nipples seem to have taken a walk along with the body hair. Strange that a Disney movie (it is Disney right?) has so much nudity in it. A lot of Sean Bean fans are saying the CGI Beowulf looks much more like him than this Winstone guy. I tend to agree especially after I got a load of a plump (almost fat) Winstone on the IBDb movie boards. He looks nothing like the character.
elfscribe5
elfscribe5 at 2007-11-25 19:02 (UTC) (Link)
You're right, they haven't changed the technology as far as I can tell. And no, you don't have to see it that way. The theatre where I saw it offered two options, 3D and regular film. We just thought the 3D added to the whole schtick of seeing it. One good thing about the movie is that it didn't take itself too seriously. And yeah, Angelina's nipples, lol, I guess they were walking the line about being too explicit seeing as how I'm sure they were marketing this movie for the favorite teenage boy demographic. (And banking on future videogame sales.) And no, it isn't Disney. Directed by Robert Zemeckis. Can't remember the studio that produced it. And yeah, apparently the attempt to make him look like Sean Bean was purposeful and people were complaining, why not just hire Sean to do the part? Reportedly Winston was quite pleased with his make-over. LOL. I kind of wonder about the future of this technology. Will it ultimately make actors obsolete? Probably not.
Btw,thanks for the JRM links. Hugs.
Maggie Honeybite
maggiehoneybite at 2007-11-25 19:18 (UTC) (Link)
Apparently LJ didn't like that second picture. A shame, that.
elfscribe5
elfscribe5 at 2007-11-25 19:27 (UTC) (Link)
You're kidding. You can't see the second picture in that series? Can LJ really censor one picture? That would be amazing considering that it's been shown in theatres all over with a PG13 rating. Guess I better make this friends only. [grumbles]
elfscribe5
elfscribe5 at 2007-11-25 21:24 (UTC) (Link)
It's not LJ - it's Photobucket and I don't get it at all as not only is my Photobucket account is locked for me only but this pic is not obscene. Really pissed now.
elfscribe5
elfscribe5 at 2007-11-25 21:31 (UTC) (Link)
Okay, I was able to reinstall it via my LJ photogallery. Sheesh, Photobucket is getting ridiculous.
Maggie Honeybite
maggiehoneybite at 2007-11-27 04:15 (UTC) (Link)
Photobucket censored that? It's not obscene in the least! Geez.
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