Beowulf (2007) — a brief review

| November 30, 2007

My daughter Salem and I went to see “Beowulf” last night for her 22nd birthday. I sent an e-mail about it to an acquaintance, and he turned around and asked me if this meant that I thought (a) that “Beowulf” was a good movie and (b) that the motion capture technology used works. I spent quite some time crafting a reply and decided to post a slightly revised version here as well.

On point (a), “Beowulf” was a better film than I expected and (IMHO) a decent film on its own merits. The story presented was probably more entertaining and more “traditionally” plotted (in modern terms) for a general, contemporary audience that a pure presentation of Beowulf (kill Grendel, kill his mom, time passes, go off and kill the last dragon, die) would have been (I re-read Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf a month or so ago for a baseline).This may be damning with faint praise, but I will say that it was a better picture than “Troy” (2004) in conveying the epic sense of the self-absorbed but “great” hero and those who surround him.

On the other hand, the script put in the ‘seeds of self destruction/sins of the father’ trope not once but twice (for both Hrothgar and for Beowulf) with suggestions of a third, and there were a few times when I thought Beowulf was about to roar “Tonight…we dine…in hell!” While some themes about emerging Christianity were preserved, they were given a slightly irrelevant-to-negative cast (think of “Dragonslayer” (1981), though not quite that blatant or negative). And while I appreciated the ‘purist’ sense of having Beowulf choose to fight Grendel naked and unarmed, the resulting ‘camera’ gymnastics to avoid southern exposure kept introducing a sly winking note to what should have been a tense, horrific scene.

Still, and this really is faint praise, I think “Beowulf” was a much better film than almost all of this summer’s blockbusters (Pirates 3, Spider-Man 3, etc.) — better written, better acted, more thoughtful, more tightly and coherently directed, and just more entertaining. However, I’ll still pick this year’s “Harry Potter” and — for all its knee-jerk anti-Americanism (or, at least, anti-CIAism, which bothers me less, given what an incompetent and politically disloyal organization the CIA appears to be) — “The Bourne Ultimatum” over “Beowulf”, though.

As for (b), the motion capture technology worked far, far better than I expected. There were lots of times when I actually forgot that I was watching animation — the graphics really were that good, especially on facial close-ups. At other times that I just didn’t care, and there were yet other times when I was very clear that I was watching animation because it was showing me things that were incredible, fascinating, impossible and/or breath-taking. Interestingly, the last cases were probably less jarring than when the same thing happens in live-action films, since I didn’t immediately start wondering, “How did they do that?” — if you will, the animation looks less “fake”, or at least does less to break the suspension of disbelief and pull me out of the film, than live-action special effects would. Of course, there were some other times (fortunately relatively few and brief) when I felt I was watching a very high end version of “Shrek” — mostly when there were horses galloping or large groups of men running around.

In short, I’m glad I went to see “Beowulf”, and I don’t wish for either my money or those two hours back — and nowadays, that’s about the best I can hope for in going to see a film. Your mileage may vary. ..bruce w..

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Category: Main, Media, Movies, Reviews

About the Author ()

Webster is Principal and Founder at Bruce F. Webster & Associates, as well as an Adjunct Professor of Computer Science at Brigham Young University. He works with organizations to help them with troubled or failed information technology (IT) projects. He has also worked in several dozen legal cases as a consultant and as a testifying expert, both in the United States and Japan. He can be reached at, or you can follow him on Twitter as @bfwebster.

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