Beowulf: The reason why my favourite books are never going to see the screen
Beowulf one of those pieces of literature like The Aeneid or the Epic of Gilgamesh that, unless you studied classics (which isn’t generally considered a subject outside public schools), just sits on bookshelves to fill the space between Umberto Eco and James Joyce. I know it only from “Tolkien wanted to write an English version of Beowulf”. The Lord of The Rings series and Troy (probably others too) were a wakeup call to movie execs. The success of these meant that new trove of material was available without huge franchise fees like Harry Potter, no hordes of obsessive nitpicking fans like LotR. The story and characters are sufficiently unknown so that they can be manipulated to suit the audience and desired running time.
But I don’t feel that there’s been a huge call for this text to be made into a movie, or that your average moviegoer will see this because it’s a CGI movie. This is an awkward time of the year: half term over, running up to christmas – there is an additional risk of this underperforming at the box office, purely because of timing. Contrast this with the interest in The Golden Compass, which has a much better released date in December.
On a side note, I hate that the term “CGI Movie” is still being used – It’s been 12 years since Toy Story, for goodness sake! I thought with The Incredibles we’d seen the end of animation being seen as second-class or purely for kids. I thought we’d got out of that “ooh look at the pretty pictures” attitude – CGI has been part of the scenery for a long time. In the last year, I’ve had my expectations raised by Superman Returns and Transformers where the effects were used appropriately, a tool for illustrating the story.
I was expecting a movie made entirely using Motion Capture / CGI techniques to have come a long way from Lord of the Rings and Final Fantasy. The image below is a quick & nasty comparison of how far we’ve come in 6 years. Certainly Zemeckis seems to have learnt from the mistakes in Polar Express in terms of making the characters look more emotive. Obviously these are just static images, but it still looks a little wooden. I expected more from 6 years development in CGI hardware and software.
The film looks to have fairly mature violence and sexual content, yet they have somehow squeezed a 12A certificate. King Arthur tried to do this a few years ago and it showed on screen – the Director’s Cut was quickly released on DVD. So already I get the nagging feeling that the story’s been compromised.
I’m not too keen on Ray Winstone in roles where he needs to talk. I loved him in Final Cut and Love, Honour and Obey, but in Henry VIII and Sweeney Todd (both TV dramas), it sometimes felt like he was reading phonetically from a card, much like the main bad guy in El Mariachi. So when the trailer ends with “I – wiw – kiw- yowah – monstah!”, and the CGI character looks more like Sean Bean, I wonder if he wouldn’t have been more convincing.
So with all that, I’m slightly disappointed, even though I wasn’t particularly looking forwards to it. And whilst there’s no loss to me from this film not doing well, I feel that if it doesn’t do well, it’ll be blamed on the story or the CGI.
And that’s a bad thing, because there are dozens of books out there that are screaming to be made into movie, but need CGI because of the scenery or characters. Some are in development hell, like The Sparrow, others like the Saga of the Exiles aren’t well known enough, but would make a fantastic series. I’ve got a list as long as my arm of books that I’d love to see on screen, I’ll share them with you one day.
I’ve finished writing this after the opening weekend, and signs are good.
But I’ll still wait for the DVD.
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