While I was watching the movie with my girlfriend, two thoughts struck me immediately:
- The majority of the viewing audience didn’t receive the top secret memo that Beowulf was an animated movie, and
- The director (Robert Zemekis) wasn’t trying hard enough to make an adult animated movie
I’m a little grateful for point #1. If the commercials had stressed that Beowulf was an animated movie, for example, rather than some action movie that happened to have a scantily clad Angelina Jolie, then I’d feel rather uncomfortable sharing the theater space with kids. To the credit of the marketing staff, there were no children and few teenagers at the screening. (I will have to concede with a comment Jolie had with regard to the movie: she thinks it should have had a rating higher than PG-13.) Still, it almost felt like a bait-and-switch. I only knew that it was animated by reading Ebert’s review beforehand. I doubt most of the theater would have felt the same, and I’m sure confusion reigned when the opening looked like a scene from Shrek 4.
Which brings me to Point #2. I’m all for adult animation. Akira is one of my favorite movies. But Beowulf looked like far too much like a tarted-up kid’s film. The unessential characters, for example, looked like extras from the Shrek franchise. Other reviews hace cited that they look like they’re from Polar Express, but they looked more like Shrek people to me. In any case, there were enough ties to existing childrens’ films to make one feel right uncomfortable. Perhaps this is why the double-entendre jokes felt so wrong; the characters who were speaking them might as well have been Jim Henson’s Muppets. But the difference between this and Avenue Q or Meet the Feebles is that Zemekis seems completely unaware of this incongruity.
The only times I felt that the animation separated itself form its kid-friendly siblings are when the CG artists lovingly rendered their skills on portraying Angelina Jolie and Ray Winstone’s naked form. (And even the “Naked Beowulf” segments weren’t entire successful. The way objects would suddenly show up to hide, um, little Beowulf set the audience laughing.)
I appreciated the writing, and I give the credit to Neil Gaiman for infusing every scene with a sense that he’s trying to tell you something. I believe the first half was intentionally goofy, what with the title character screaming, “I … AM … BEOWULF!” all the time and the corny jokes and whatnot. It served as a sharp contrast to the latter half, where Beowulf has become old and no longer views the world with carefree stupidity of youth. The story plays around with the Beowulf legend, but it doesn’t do so just to pad out the screen time. Rather, there is a story about how our heroes may have dark secrets, yet that doesn’t make them any less impressive. (For readers of Tad Williams’ Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy, this strongly echoes the saga of Prester John.)
My girlfriend, though, pointed out the movies major flaw: it just didn’t feel epic. I mean, you’re doing a movie about an epic poem… shouldn’t there be a grandiose feel about it? Yet it feels entirely claustrophobic. It always seems to be winter, the characters don’t seem to voyage beyond a 2 mile radius, and the entire kingdom seems to be made up of 20 people. Also, when I tried to justify my own views, she felt I mentioned Angelina Jolie far too many times. Touche.
So while I felt the writing was OK, the movie was a bit of a failure in my opinion. I even went in with low expectations and still felt it wasn’t up to snuff.
As a side note, Angelina looked frightfully skinny in one of the movie trailers. I even told my girlfriend that computer-generated Angelina, who was fuller and rounder, looked far more healthy and sexy.
Aaaaaannndd… that’s all I’ll speak of Angelina for today.