DIRECTOR: Robert Zemekis
I love pioneers. They push the boundaries of their fields to create something new. In film, George Lucas, before he turned to the dark side, helped the evolution of visual effects, whilst Fritz Lang is undoubtedly one of the Grandfathers of modern cinema. D.W. Griffiths, though controversial, introduced us to the epic in 1916 with Birth Of A Nation, and 1982’s Tron was a first real look at what computer generated animation could look like.
But Tron failed in many respects, all to them for trying though. They went to early. The technology wasn’t really ready and the same could be said for motion capture in 2008. Robert Zemekis has been a pioneer of visuals for well over a decade, creating his what was often refereed to as “Forest Gump” technology to insert actors into real scenes. This was used to real effect again by Zemekis in Contact as well as in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’s episode, “Trials And Tribulations”, as DS9’s cast were inserted into a classic episode from 30 years earlier.
But it wasn’t until 2009’s Avatar, that motion capture would finally come into its own. Peter Jackson had pushed the boat out with Golum back in 2002/2003 with the latter two instalments of Lord Of The Rings, and Zemekis himself a year later, with his very own The Polar Express, which though clearly animation, was an experiment with motion capture, that many would argue was a failure. But at the same time, it worked, though it wasn’t the easiest animation to watch.
But The Polar Express was also an early foray into the modern 3D format, and there’s no real argument that 3D works best with animation. So here we have Beowulf. A film that is essentially the culmination of motion capture, with CGI variations of the real actors who are providing the mo-cap data, and one of the first major 3D releases of the revival. Did it work? NO.
The 3D direction, is fine, though we’ll come to the direction later. But it wasn’t necessary, saying that, is it ever? But the motion capture had the same problems as before, with Polar Express. The CGI was good to excellent, though not constant. At times it looked real, others like Shrek! But the emotions just weren’t really there, well not enough of the time anyway. The movement was the same, slightly too slow or other worldly, and it was clear that the technology just hadn’t quite developed enough to pull this off.
The plot is based on the old English poem, but has been adjusted to suit. It’s pretty straight forward though: Hero comes to save kingdom from monster and moral lessons are learned etc… The direction is somewhat faithful at times to this narrative with great halls and a kind of Jacksonest, The Two Towers feel, but it’s aggressively handled, mainly to justify or to glorify the 3D. Overly sharp movements, sweeping and pointing, with objects sticking out here there and everywhere. I suppose that’s to help make the 3D film look good and it could be to make it feel like a fun film, but even if this was trying to be, which it wasn’t, Beowulf was not a fun film. It was barly enjoyable.
The pacing was poor, the story was predictable, engaging and to have a film directed in such a 3D manner was short-sighted as especially then, no-one could really see it as it was intended. Yes, it was released in 3D theatres, but it has yet still to receive a Blu-ray 3D release and never has it had any other form of 3D disc, anaglyph for example. Unless you went to the cinema in 2008, this film has never been seen as it was intended and until there’s a much greater adoption of home 3D technology, it won’t be. My point is that with this direction being so bent towards the 3D as it was, it’s hard not to be distracted from the film by the way that it’s been directed or the poor animation.
This is a poorly judged film on so many levels and I can’t think of much to recommend here.