Mr. Bombastic

Review by Vives Anunciacion
Inquirer Libre November 20, 2007

Beowulf
Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Based on the Old English epic poem
Written by Neil Gaiman, Roger Avary
Starring Ray Winstone, Angelina Jolie
Warner Brothers/ Shangri-La Entertainment
3D in IMAX

Beowulf will do to 3D what Lord of the Rings did to fantasy – champion the genre as its innovator and make it as popular as the rest of the blockbuster pack, though in a smaller scale. Pag-ipunan na ang P400 tiket ng IMAX, ito na marahil ang magiging pinakasulit na P400 na tiket sa balat ng pinilakang tabing dahil hindi ito pang-small screen. Warning lang, masyado itong nakakatakot for very little kids.

I remember Beowulf as a 2nd year high school English class topic (do kids these days get their English classics in grade school? I wonder.) Story of a guy who kills a monster. Hindi siya ganon ka-interesting noon, but it was a required topic (we tried reading it but it was in Anglo-Saxon.) Anyway, its significance was in the fact that the epic poem is one of the oldest Old English manuscripts in history. Ah, the original Neil Gaiman.

It is A.D. 6th Century, in the Danish Kingdom of Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins), a gruesome giant monster-demon called Grendel (Crispin Glover) terrorizes the halls of Heorot – butchering and killing (eating!) anyone who gets in its path. A Geat (or Goth, Swedish) hero Beowulf (Ray Winstone), arrives in Heorot with a platoon of warriors to help rid the people of Grendel’s horrific menace. To cut the story short, Beowulf defeats Grendel, pero may kabayaran ang kanyang katapangan. Grendel’s demon-mother (Angelina Jolie) takes revenge and massacres Beowulf’s army the next day. Thinking he can defeat her the same way he defeated Grendel, Beowulf enters the demon-mother’s cave, only to be seduced by its beautiful deceit. Beowulf is the tragic story of a valiant hero disgraced by his pride.

I’m a fan of the director, Robert Zemeckis, but that doesn’t mean I like everything he does necessarily. What I do like is that he has a good command of storytelling and the itch to push the techniques of filmmaking to higher levels (compositing archival footage with new material in Forrest Gump, the famous mirror scene in Contact, and his groundbreaking first attempt at motion-capture animation in The Polar Express.) In a sense he is more of an artist of the medium than the message. It was the technology in Polar Express which convinced him to make Beowulf using motion-capture technique.

The animation is very impressive, the visuals are crisp most of the time. Meron lang ilang pagkakataon na parang lumalabo yung images, humihiwalay yung 3D, lalu na pag sa gilid-gilid o kaya pag mabilis ang panning ng camera. Mahusay rin ang rendering ng mga hitsura ng mga tao, malapit na sa photorealism. Music is also appropriate, kapansin-pansin yung paggamit ng electric guitars sa main character theme.

Pero ang nakagugulat is that Beowulf has solid storytelling from start to finish, and an emotional heft that was unexpected from the computer-generated characters, particularly the monster Grendel, na nagmukhang nakakaawa dahil sa kundisyon niya sa pandinig at dahil parang gutay-gutay na muscles ang kaniyang katawan. Hindi nakakahilo kahit na the entire movie is in 3D at may pagkakataon na mapatitigil ka sa upuan mo dahil parang kasama ka sa eksenang nagaganap. There’s male and female nudity (at minsan nakakatawa kung paano takpan ang nudity sa pelikula), pero maraming adult innuendos at religious themes which are not topics for kids younger than 10. Merong isang bata na umiyak at nagsabing, “ayoko na, natatakot na ko,” sa mga magulang niya sa press screening last week, dahil hindi talaga pambata yung pelikula.

The modernistic language and approach to characters including Beowulf himself gives the old poem an accessible appeal to a 21st century audience, but sometimes the language is too modern it sounds corny. Beowulf is best seen in 3D because that’s the way to enjoy the new technique, plus the fact that the final action sequence with a beautifully rendered dragon looks so alive up-close.

Beowulf may not be the innovator in its class, but it offers a heightened degree of experiencing a very promising format in cinema, with good storytelling to boot. The future looks bright in 3D, and you gotta wear shades.

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