“Fallen Hero”
For many people, reading Beowulf marked when poetry, much less English class in general, became interesting. Adapted and reimagined by Neil Gaiman (comic book scribe of Sandman and The Eternals, much less fantasy novels such as American Gods) and Roger Avery (co-scripter of Pulp Fiction), Beowulf comes to us via “performance capture,” the Robert Zemeckis technique he developed for his 2004 movie, Polar Express. The lush animation serves this story well, for Beowulf is set in a time of night monsters and demons.

Until the demon known as Grendel (Crispin Glover) came to spoil their party, King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins) ruled alongside his much younger wife, Wealthow (Robin Wright-Penn) over a community of fun loving Danes. In a nude fight scenes awkwardly reminiscent of Borat (or juvenile jokes out of Austin Powers), our hero, the heroic Geatsman, Beowolf (Ray Winstone) severs the arm of Grendel. In the name of greater glory, he—backed by his right-hand man, Wiglaf (Brendan Gleeson)—is sent on a mission to dispatch Grendel’s mother. Unfortunately, Grendel’s mother is a nude Angelina Jolie who emerges from the water of an underground cavern, with water pouring off her like golden milk chocolate (what we’re going to call “the money shot” – and yes, the movie managed to rate a PG-13).

“Nothing is as good as it should have been.” –Beowulf

In this tale of the hero who would be king, Beowulf—with his weakness for monster chicks—is tempted by lust and power; he succumbs to his desire to be the greatest king by “bowing” to Grendel’s mother. Beowulf knew what he was born to be, a hero, yet his pride got in the way. Time and time again he boasted of his conquests, told tales of his derring-do, all to make himself a hero through his own efforts before taking his rightful place as king.

“The demon is my husband’s shame.” –Queen Wealthow

Beowulf was a fallible and flawed man cursed because he believed the lies from her lips “full of fine promises”. Because she was never truly vanquished, The Temptress remained with them. He paid the price of eating the fruit of the dragon by having to deal with the consequences of his sin—the “something you left behind” or “the sins of the fathers”—which continued to have repercussions on him and those around him.

“What we need is a hero.” –King Hrothgar

After such a fall, there is the need for redemption and Beowolf attempts his self-salvation scheme. It takes him the course of the movie, and many years, to realize that it takes self-sacrifice to be a real hero. (Though the movie seems to hint that the old ways of the hero, the ways of Odin, were on the verge of making way for newer definitions of the hero, the ways of the Christ-god; going so far as to whisper the need for people to “accept him as the one and only God.”)

We have to wonder if this is a glimpse of film-making to come, this merger of film and video games (though far from the Final Fantasy days). Luckily, we’re still far away from computers capturing the subtleties of human expression, unless we’re more dead-eyed than I give us credit for being. Well, maybe not that far away, but it’s not here yet. We’re left with creepy looking animation, rather apropos here, that brought to mind the image of this being 300: the animated series. Beowulf has fewer battle scenes, than one might expect, but also reaches for deeper themes than the storyline allows for. For all of the technological mastery, the movie lacks a certain spark of vitality, although, maybe I should have watched the 3-D version.

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