Don’t be an idiot. Go see Beowulf. See it on the biggest flippin’ 3D screen you can find. For those of you fortunate enough to live in the center of the universe, that means the Lowes IMAX at 68th and Broadway.
You have to see this move in the theater. It’s that simple.
Robert Zemeckis, a graduate of the Steven Spielberg School of Showmanship, has put together a rather enticing reason NOT to wait for the DVD. In the end, that’s all that this film amounts to, but still, that’s quite a feat. It has the thrills for both the action/fantasy fan and the cinÃ©aste trying to follow modern progressions in filmmaking. This is the film of the future, but we’re not quite there yet. The technology is in its infancy, and it is exciting to see the possibilities of it, even if the intended effect falls flat on its face right now.
As for story, writers Roger Avary and Neil Gaiman have put together a solid, if foolish, script. They’re a good match: Mr. Gaiman being a modern representative of fantasy intellectualism, himself turning into the 21st Century J.R.R. Tolkien; and Mr. Avary having become Hollywood’s goto man for pulpy comic-booky stories, specifically in the realm of video game adaptations. The narrative is tight enough, and the tone matches with cartoonish form of the film rather nicely. In another director’s hands, perhaps pure gold could have been spun out.
As for the motion capture work, it’s good. It’s really really good. But still, what’s the point? The characters look extremely real sometimes, and other times they look hilariously fake. Some scenes obviously spent more time in the oven than others, and those scenes proved to me that this is a viable way to make films. In the end, however, it’s not exactly as fitting as say Toy Story, whose story matched the technological limitations of its day. It’s unfortunate that Mr. Zemeckis, whose background includes a number of films that pushed the efforts of special effects artists along (Back to the Future, Forrest Gump, The Polar Express) has drunk the mo-cap kool-aid, but he is yet to prove that it’s a worthwhile way of making movies. He’s stuck in his ways of making films with a camera, it’s not at the point where he can yet break away and really push this as a new tool rather than a flashy idea.
The 3D suffers from the problem. It is an extremely confusing way of making films, and while they definitely pulled out many stops in trying to poke the audiences’ eyes out very little in the film really feels any different from a 2D film. They’re using the same kinds of “lenses” as normal camera, which is extremely jarring on telephoto shots. Ultimately, 3D feels as though it should always use either a 35mm or 50mm lens, which are close enough to the human eye to really bring us into the space. On a beastly IMAX screen it feels like you are in the same room as these people, but it hurts when some thing are in focus and others are not. The 3D rack focus is incredibly awkward, as is the push-pull shot (which happens once).
Here, Zemeckis plays the part of a modern-day Johnnes Gutenberg, whose printing press gained him a spot in history, though of course he was no author. The director is tirelessly pushing this technology forward, even in projects that are a bit disappointing. But good for him. Beowulf had a boffo opening weekend, and it opened on more digital 3D screens than any film ever. The result will eventually be more 3D screens, more 3D films, and a real market for exciting work that forces people into the theaters in even higher numbers than we’ve been seeing.
Like I said, just go and see it. But if you’re like me, it’s just going to want to hop in a De Lorean and zip up to May 22, 2009, when James Cameron’s live-action digital 3D spectacle Avatar premieres with 1.21 gigawatts of awesome. See you there.