CGI Does not dampen the Epic Glory of Beowulf


Imagine you and your friends are at the local pub having a good old time. Then the police show up due to noise complains and ruin your whole evening. Now, replace the “police” with the Grendel and “ruining your whole evening” with tearing your friends limb from limb, and you’ve got the beginning to the epic tale of Beowulf.

It has taken many years of planning and writing, but the brilliant minds of Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary were able to bring life to the ancient Norse warrior Beowulf. In this modern epic Beowulf is the greatest hero the world has ever known. His exploits are told all across the northlands and his reputation precedes him wherever he travels. Beowulf (Ray Winstone) and his crew of brave warriors arrive in Denmark after pleas from the great King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins) whose kingdom is being threatened by the monster Grendel (Crispin Glover). Grendel dispatched, Beowulf is faced with the Grendel’s Mother (Angelina Jolie) who lurks deep in her watery cavern.

This film is presented, to some, in questionable format. The decision to create the film using Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) caused controversy. Many critics and fans believe that Beowulf should have been presented in much the same way as 300 or Sin City: live action mixed with CGI. Instead, Zemeckis decided that full CGI format would be used to bring Beowulf to “life”.

Zemeckis had already shown an all-CGI film can be made when he directed 2004’s The Polar Express. CGI was used due to many reasons that include: greater control over art direction, camera angles that would be impossible to create in real life, and also its low cost. Now, I too thought that this method would subtract from the overall feel of the movie, but I was proven wrong after only the first few minutes.

At first I thought the characters looked a bit waxy, as some naysayers have said. They seemed more like characters from Shrek. It was then that I realized, “of course they do; they are done in the same medium!” Don’t all marble sculptures have the same texture? Once the story began to unfold all of my doubts were gone. Beowulf uses CGI to its fullest extent, by bringing to life creatures and battles, which could not have been done with the same degree of quality and precision with live action. As great a movie as it was, not even 300 had the same pace to its battle scenes.

CGI aside, the writing and acting alone were enough to give us an A+ film. Beowulf and the rest of the characters are made real by an array of Hollywood’s finest. Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins, and Angelina Jolie all give great performances and their emotion is mirrored nicely with the computerized medium. The story does differ from the original text quite a bit. The movie is not exactly the legend as it is known, but the creation of that legend. Some characters were altered and the plot was tweaked, but this adaptation shows Beowulf in a new light. No longer the infallible hero, in this modern telling, Grendel’s Mother presents him with a choice and the decision he makes has great consequences which flesh out his character.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this film. Advice: see it in 3-D. But even in 2-D there really was no aspect of its presentation that let me down; all of the doubts I had about it were quelled. I say let Beowulf take its spot amongst the great action/adventure films of our time and let the almighty Odin deal with those who cast doubt upon this great epic. Until Ragnarok!

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