In the CGI of the beholder
This weekend saw the release of Beowulf, directed by special-effects guru Robert Zemeckis of Back to the Future/Forrest Gump fame using a revolutionary method of motion capture using bluescreen, body-suits and a lot of computers. This is not a problem, necessarily; major achievements in 21st century cinema, like the Lord of the Rings trilogy, for example, would have been completely inconceivable without access to such technology. Digital artwork can add realism to a fantastic backdrop, or bring to life what would be impossible to recreate using conventional props. Where it becomes a problem is when the artifice upstages the art, when the (admittedly impressive) digital work becomes more of a talking point than the ideas espoused within the narrative.
I had a conversation recently about the aforementioned adaptation that revolved solely around Ray Winstone’s gut in a blue jumpsuit, and understandably so. The movie’s ad campaign focuses largely on the superficialities of the plot: the old school violence; dragons, which seem to be the 11th century equivalent of blowing stuff up; and Angelina Jolie, the logical choice to play Grendel’s Mother, getting up close and personal with Winstone’s new six-pack.
At no point does the trailer give any indication of the story’s noteworthy origins, or even the quality of the script, co-written by fantasy all-rounder Neil Gaiman. Considering its verbal chops, and an excitingly diverse cast (Winstone, Jolie, Anthony Hopkins, John Malkovich, Brendan Gleeson, et al), the guys in production have still decided to put their money on the 300/Die Hard demographic, banking on the flash visuals being enough to reel in an audience on their own.
But why does Beowulf feel the need to pander to these kinds of fans? It’s not like it’s dealing with an untested story, and the recent influx of swords-and-evil movies sorely needs a lead role with the depth and complexity of Beowulf. Still, all this is speculation upon a two-minute sequence of hook-heavy fanbait. As with every film, it’ll take a night of extortionate ticket prices, comfy seats and a bucket of snack food to reach a conclusion. But how refreshing it would be to find a movie that actually surpasses its technical credentials with a half-decent story?