The cool new cineplex in Las Vegas opens this weekend, but they packed us in tonight for a Beowulf 3-D extravaganza on 6 screens, with free popcorn and soft drinks. Come one, come all, to the big-budget adaptation of... a Danish epic poem? Well, we did, and I came away with a few impressions:
1. A brand new theater does not have any sticky floors. The bathrooms look clean, not just maintained. And the employees are still trying to impress customers. It's something everyone should experience once in their lives.
2. Free popcorn may be a good business ploy, but partaking of it feels like a bad health decision. I haven't eaten movie theater popcorn in ages, and now I remember why.
3. If the movie distribution industry can figure out a way to provide 3-D digital projection, how hard can it be to engineer a movie that can't be pirated by amateur camera use? I mean, if you photocopy a check, it says "copy." Macrovision figured out a way to stop the dubbing of VHS tapes. Certainly someone can do something to the projected image, or even the big white screen.
So, what of the movie? Olde English literature is, for lack of a better term, kinda gay. Lines like "Beowulf, you must taste the king's meat" induced some well-deserved chuckles. I soon realized why this film could not be in live action: the actors would crack up.
It took a while to adjust to the 3-D (when I got tired of it, I shut my right eye), but this kind of motion capture technology has vastly improved since whatever Robert Zemeckis was doing in The Polar Express. It strikes me as a fresh and viable form of animation: none of it feels real, but it still looks impressive. (After 30 minutes in, I started worrying about the Oscar chances of The Simpsons Movie for that final slot. Many regard Ratatouille and Persepolis as locks.)
I'm also impressed with how the animation takes advantage of the cast. Anthony Hopkins' character looks like him. Same with Brendan Gleeson. The animated Angelina Jolie actually looks a bit better -- as the hoots and howls in the audience demonstrated -- because she looks like she's returned to her healthier Lara Croft days. (Now she's gotten too skinny, like Jennifer Aniston did. Add to that lineup Juliette Lewis and Gwyneth Paltrow, and you have to wonder about Brad Pitt. He seems to like them bony, doesn't he?)
The storyline is pretty basic, so I'd rather talk about the gore. Oh, the gore. The filmmakers go overboard to give the monster Grendel everything that can be considered gross on a vertebrate: scales, protruding hair, ripped-away flesh, and a full assortment of body fluids. In 3-D. Add to that the nudity of a few more human-looking characters, and I'm convinced the ratings board was paid off to make it PG-13.
I'm not a big fan of this kind of fantasy, and I've never read the source material (who has?), but the film gives me an idea of the plot elements that would make this story persist for so many centuries. So I guess it did its job.