2012 Film Challenge #9 - Beowulf

Well, at first I was downright outraged by the amount of crucifixes on show. To place the earliest surviving piece of (pagan) Old English fiction in a Christian context is nothing short of an insult to those of us who wrote their BA (Hons) Dissertation on this period. I demand historical accuracy from my motion-captured blockbusters, dammit.

But this ain't no ordinary motion-captured blockbuster. This one was scripted by Neil Gaiman and his bezzy-mezzy Roger Avary. Based on the brilliant notion that Beowulf was an unreliable narrator (what did happen in Grendel's cave?), they've transformed him into a flawed, tragic hero – with Grendel as a misunderstood outcast and Grendel's mum as the only thing a lot of people will remember once they stop watching.

And it makes for a fascinating romp of tremendous depth beyond that I've come to expect in films of this ilk. It's rare that films featuring a grizzly, beardy protagonist should “ask questions” and “deal with themes”.

But - there's always a “but”, isn't there? And it's always saved for last. I can only imagine how irritating that must be – the problem lies in the motion-capture approach to film-making. I haven't got a problem with the technique per se – I love The Polar Express, and I'm quite disappointed to have missed out on Tintin – it's just that, I've no idea at all what the point is.

CGI has advanced to such a terrifying level that, in many cases, it's no longer possible to tell the difference between what's real and what's not. It's only when too much is used that the lines stop blurring. So, when absolutely everything is crafted by computers, absolutely everything looks artificial. No matter how excellent the writing, the film's power is thus greatly diminished and, with every passing year, it will unfortunately look more and more dated.

So why did they use this technique in the first place? With a budget $150,000,000, it's not as if it was used as a money-saving technique. And the Lord of the Rings films have shown us that stories of this nature can be brought to the screen using real, physical actors (rather than just their movements).

It's a terrible shame when one of what must be the only three poems that will ever make it to the screen (alongside The Night Before Christmas and The Raven) will ultimately fail on account of the very thing which was supposed to make it stand out in the first place. All the elements here are perfect. It's just let down by the delivery.

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