Beowulf

This attempt to capture the Epic Old English tale is partly successful. It follows the epic poem more closely than most other film adaptations, capturing some of the raw detail of the setting and even a bit of the poem itself is recited in Old English (Grendel and his mother often speak in OE). The three acts of the poem shape the narrative of the movie. Epic pride and glory fill the speaches and conversations, sometimes matching scenes from the original manuscript in theme and tone if not in word.

But this movie aims for as large a young-male audience as possible; it pours on videogame-like gore and lust. The film’s PG-13 rating is stretched to include voluptuous CG-flesh and the gory monster battles are enough to give anybody the queasies.

All in all, it is a thrilling epic (especially an extended fight with a dragon at the end of the movie), but even the actor-driven performances become hollowed out by the pixelated versions of eyes and facial expressions. I couldn’t help but think that the movie was trapped by cinematic conventions, too often limitted by conventional camera angles and familiar editing practices. For all the freedom available with CGI, I’m still mostly left waiting for something like disciplined restraint to depict with comuputers something that couldn’t be more thrillingly and astonishingly depicted with the limitations of cameras, natural light, and all that is suggested by what is not displayed on the screen.

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