Barry's Beowulf Highlights from the Comic-Con Preview
by Barry Wurst
August 1, 2007
The hugely anticipated first look Paramount provided at Comic-Con this past week for their fall centerpiece, Robert Zemeckis' Beowulf, provided a mixed, if promising experience. A packed auditorium found bulky but not altogether unfashionable black glasses on every seat, which, initially made us think perhaps Paramount was trying to bring Blues Brothers shades back into style.
Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary took to the stage and explained that, to our giddy surprise, these plastic oculars were 3D glasses and we'd be seeing the new footage three-dimensionally! It seemed like a bold move (after all, outside of IMAX presentations, when was the last time anyone had a great experience seeing a 3D movie in a normal cineplex?). Yet, when the lights dimmed and we saw a figure slice a blade seemingly inches from our eyes, the viewer was given the enthralling sensation of having to soak up the crisp imagery and find themselves immersed in this beautiful new world.
The look of Beowulf is not new - imagine the characters of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within garbed in medieval attire. The photorealism was stunning (it sure looked like the real Anthony Hopkins, and not his CGI stand-in, was playing Hrothgar), though the novelty of the technique has aged a bit, with everything from The Polar Express to even the mediocre Happy Feet pushing this attribute to already revolutionary levels of excellence. Yet, the bold, wildly audacious approach on display here (the comparisons to 300 aren't out of place) was transfixing: this looks like the scariest, most erotic American animated movie in years (if not ever), a film that may be too much for the young ones and some adults). The violence and sexuality displayed was jarring and eye opening - how much will make it to the final cut in November, will this find as broad an audience as intended and will this reach as many as the blockbuster 300 or be a one-weekend wonder, like the underrated TMNT?
I admittedly haven't read Beowulf since high school and the details of the story weren't entirely fresh. I recall that the title character goes on a trek to battle the fierce Grendel, a battle that the 20 minutes of mid-movie footage didn't show. Instead, we get Grendel's final scene (which, since we didn't see what lead up to it, didn't have the emotional effect intended) and a pivotal turning point in the story, involving the reveal of Angelina Jolie's character. For the qualms, I wasn't happy about the Austin Power-like moments of comically obstructed nudity (not the case in Jolie's scenes - more on that in a minute), the odd blend of actors who look exactly like their on-screen counterparts and faces that don't match the famous voices and, as mentioned earlier, the use of beautiful, stunningly realized CGI imagery to tell a story isn't as novel as it would have been just five years ago. Yet, the unashamedly bold scenes that unfolded showed that, once again, Zemeckis has reached for the moon and gotten at least halfway there.
The final scene, with Jolie's villainess emerging from a body of water, is a stunner for multiple reasons: a) the lighting and use of water to interact with the characters is uncanny, b) the scene is intense, not only for its content, but also because, as he showed in earlier scenes, ANYTHING could happen in a film so uncompromised and we're holding our breaths because we don't know if Zemeckis will underplay the scene or turn the volume up to 11 and c) the nudity. Unless Jolie performed the scene nude or just provided animators with copies of Gia, it's safe to say she wore a skin tight body suit during filming (which, according to Avary, took place May of 2005). Barely a single curve on her gorgeous figure is obscured as she emerges from the sinister watery depths, and audiences afterward couldn't stop talking about the potentially R-rated imagery and how Jolie is now the hottest artificial sexbomb since Jessica Rabbit (which, come to think of it, was also a Zemeckis character).
I wanted more Grendel (Crispin Glover's take looks to be a film stealer) and had trouble getting involved with footage from the film's second act (even knowing the story's beginning and outcome, it was a stretch to adopt to the film's tone and story). Yet, the footage was as stunning as you heard (in 3D or not) and, if this glimpse is any indication, we're in for a movie that will please readers of the oldest story in the English language AND subscribers to Heavy Metal!
You can also watch the new trailer that debuted for the film by clicking the photo below.