Normally I post reviews within a few hours of having seen the film but I waited in the case of Beowulf. Why?
I needed time to digest it, to consider what I thought and to wonder if I should in fact wait to see it in 3D before making a decision. I still plan to see it in 3D but I thought it would be an interesting idea to post my thoughts on the 2D version and then an update when I get to the IMAX.
Mainly I decided I couldn’t wait after reading a fairly lengthy tirade by Hal Duncan on his blog. Hal is a writer who has me periodically shaking my head in awe at his frenetically fuelled prose and in bewilderment at some of his more outspoken views. The review is one of the latter occasions.
And I just can’t agree. Well not completely.
Yes I’m a Gaiman fan. And yes it’s been a while since I read the original poem. But that will not mean this review is a white wash, oh no – wait and see.
However, even in my semi-comatose-post-work-state, I could work out what Gaiman and Avery had tried to do with the screenplay. That it did not amount to oversimplification, that it was indeed, dare I say it, bordering on clever. It wasn’t a film with nothing to say but had stuff on the nature of fame, the nature of heroism and even a fair thrust at how history is written by the winners.
The fact that the film wasn’t brilliant, and certainly wasn’t the break through I’d heard it described as, by amongst others Gaiman himself, was nothing to do with the screenplay.
Nor was it the fault of Glover who’s performance as Grendel was terrifying and brilliant all at the same time – yes it is his movements they use, thanks to the use of motion capture techniques.
No I fear the blame has to lie with Zemeckis. The film is not a success because of the use of motion capture. It simply isn’t a good enough technology to use; it may never be because of one fatal flaw. It fails to capture the interaction between actors – if indeed there was any – and so we are treated to great individual performances from Glover, Hopkins (although using his native Welsh accent was a baaad idea, much as I love my native burrrr), Jolie and even Ray.
But they never mesh, they never connect. And that’s the problem with mo-cap.
If you want to create a hyper real world – and it really is effective for this type of material – you need to use the actual actors, on screen, together. The reason Glover’s performance is so much better than the others is simple: he’s the only one who has grasped the need to communicate his performance via his body rather than his face.
Now if you want to use 3D animation you need animators. I don’t want to sound puritanical about this but in CGI it is animators who make performances come alive. Until motion capture can capture character interaction accurately this will always be the case, and I suspect it will remain so even after that point because it’s such an alien medium. You can never just act like the real world. Movement has to be turned down a notch in some cases and turned up in others.
I’ll get off my geeky high horse in just a moment. The last criticism I have of the cgi is weight, the characters lack it and so the violence of much of the film loses its effect as characters are flung through the air. Who cares? They don’t weigh anything. They aren’t real. Indeed the only scene where a character seems to have real weight is near the end when Beowulf is hanging from the dragon. Even then it’s touch and go.
So what did I think?
I want to see it in 3D.
In 3D I’m fairly sure I won’t notice the deficiencies and that I’ll have the wow reaction I was kind of expecting. As a 2D effort I’m afraid the direction lets it down and the performances, well I’ve harped on it enough.
As a 2D offering it’s…well…flat.