Friday, November 23, 2007

Beowulf (2007)

Robert Zemeckis, come back to live-action filmmaking. While we appreciate your pioneering efforts to expand digital technology, you could also leave that work to music videos and commercials, where dead-eyed characters can roam around in CGI landscapes for thirty seconds at a time. Do you really want to be working in product testing for the rest of your career?

So the point is, Zemeckis's Beowulf is a disappointment, in spite of a sprinkling of fun visuals. Mostly the failure stems from Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary's lackluster screenplay, which is full of plot holes and has a very dry, perfunctory, just-get-to-the-next-plot-point feel to it, not to mention the thinness of Beowulf himself as a character. Oddly, for an IMAX 3-D film, the world of this movie is distant and uninvolving. It feels like the whole movie only takes place in the same three or four locations and with five or six characters, curious for a type of movie limited only by imagination.

In contrast, not long ago I rewatched Richard Lester's The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers, a pair of super-low-tech swashbucklers from 1973-74. Neither movie has a dragon or any sea monsters, but they have so much more life in them than Beowulf, which is arid and limp by comparison. In contrast in the other direction, I hated 300 from earlier this year, but it was more successful in at least being thrilling and stylized in an original way, without the pretenses of having a deeper meaning and at a fraction of Beowulf's cost. That said, I don't hate Beowulf so I'd still give it higher marks for not making me angry, as 300 did. But on the level of simply providing cheap thrills, Zemeckis's movie falls short.

This is definitely a case where the technology gets in the way of the storytelling, and where the story has been altered and expanded unnecessarily for the sake of an additional action set piece or two. Too bad but at least it's better than The Polar Express.

6 comments:

cjKennedy said...

Here's a classic movie ad pullquote if I've ever seen one: "I don't hate Beowulf so I'd still give it higher marks for not making me angry." Jeff McMahon - When the Dead Walk the Earth.

I haven't seen this thing yet, but I probably will just to see what all the 3D hubbub is about.

dan said...

hey jeff is your sihp email down? just tried to send smtg there and it bounced.

glimmer said...

jeff,haave you mentioned your not liking 300 around a group of guys and *not* have someone question your manhood ?? (hey jeff, i'm not a fan of 300 either)

i somehow manged to not like the movie.despite all those guys in those leather speedo type things. the glistening bodies.the beyond six pack abs.the body contact..the grunting....the thrusting of swords....

but hey, this is the sort of thing that goes down pretty good for 'the guys' and they're welcome to it. :)

Jeff McMahon said...

Fortunately, all of my friends who saw 300 hated it too. A few acquaintances liked it but not enough to do the manhood-questioning. I tend to not like movies that rawk, in general - I feel like action movies, more than any other genre, are about the adolescent will to power and are therefore kind of boring.

Anyway, some day I'll rent 300 in order to write a detailed rant about how horrible it is and get into the politics and homoerotic homophobia and so on.

Actionman said...

Still don't understand how 300 could make you "angry" but I totally agree with you on Beowulf. Zemeckis has lost his grasp on telling a regular story, and he's more interested in making love to his computer than creating a fully realized movie.

Jeff McMahon said...

Oh, the things I could write about 300. If I was still unemployed I would rent it and watch it again and get some nice screen-captures to illlustrate why it's so terrible, but suffice for now to say that in addition to the traditional action-movie problem of poor writing and shallow characters, it also manages to pander to its audience's bloodlust in a really obnoxious way, plus it manages the neat trick of being simultaneously homoerotic and homophobic. I give Zack Snyder credit for being able to orchestrate nice imagery, but he deserves total ridicule for apparently never thinking about what his images mean on any level beyond the most superficial.