I just got back from the Waterloo IMAX where I had the pleasure of attending a special screening of Beowulf. Sorry. I mean BEOWULF! The capital letters and the exclamation point are both required. The caps because there is some mean-ass shoutin’ in this movie that makes the beardy man from 300 sound like Whispering Bob Harris and the exclamation point because this is clearly the fantasy equivalent of Airplane!
I do hate the way that po-faced, overwrought, furrowed-brow fantasy like Lord of the Rings, 300, etc seems to be the standard template for ‘epics’ these days so BEOWULF! is something a relief for its levity alone. I’m unsure as to precisely what the makers intended to do here, but – rightly or wrongly – I had a wail of a time with it.
The film is a very loose update of the epic poem and uses CGI to, uh, recreate real actors in a pretty photo-realistic, very recognisable manner. I’m not entirely sure why they did this as it may have been cheaper and easier to just, uh, use the real actors, but hey. It actually kind of works. The visual style of the film is fairly striking and the CGI – for a change – looks good. There are a few particularly cool bits – the blue-lit water looks lovely and Grendel’s grossness is groovy – so yeah, no major complaints here. Just open mouthed stares and massive confusion when you see Ray Winstone leaping about in the nude with a smooth, bronzed Adonis body and bulging six pack.
Because yes, Beowulf fights Grendel in the nude. This is probably one of the most hilarious scenes in cinema history:
a) because of the whole “fuck me, that’s Ray Winstone’s face on that body!” factor.b) because Grendel is CRISPIN GLOVER.c) because, despite fast moving camera work, they skillfully find an object or person to cover up Beowulf’s cock in every single shot, to the point where it’s comically absurd, like something from a vintage sex farce.d) because it’s Ray Winstone getting a naked piggy back from Crispin Glover while he slaps the shit out of him, basically.
That’s not all though. When Grendel’s mother (a nude Angelina Jolie with her naughty bits CGId out) shows up, she has FEET SHAPED LIKE STILETTOS! I’m not a-kidding you. FEET SHAPED LIKE HIGH HEELED STILETTOS! All that went in to the ‘design’ for Grendel’s Mother was that Angelina Jolie would be naked with feet shaped like stilettos and a very long pony-tail that appears to have sentience.
As if these sort of visual feasts weren’t fun enough (and, believe me, I’m only scratching the surface – there are many more but I won’t spoil them), the dialogue is priceless beyond words. The initial “I will kill your monster” exchange between Beowulf and Hrothgar is wonderful. It’s almost as though Ray Winstone was on commission for every time he said those words. By about the third or fourth time, the whole audience was giggling. His accent also changes throughout the film from pseudo-Danish to cockney all the way to a spot-on Bernard Matthews impression when he tells Wealthow that her song is “bootiful”. Oh yeah. There are songs, including one massive 80s-styled power ballad at the end called “A Hero Comes Home” (a reprise of a song sang by Wealthow earlier in the film) that makes Tina Turner and Chad Kroeger take silver and bronze medals respectively in the ‘Embarrassingly Passionate Songs From The Movies About Heroes’ category. It’s written by Glen Ballard, Alanis Morrisette’s ex-songwriter.
The highlight of the film, however, is a prolonged sarcastic exchange between Ray Winstone and John Malkovich in which both actors appear to have studied History Today at length for their performance tips. Seriously. That’s not even an exaggeration. I am convinced that this is a knowing tribute. (“Oh, and I heard you killed your brothers because you saw them gaining knowledge of your mother.”) Priceless.
But, see, that’s the problem. I’m never quite sure if it is knowing or not. There’s enough in BEOWULF! that tries (and fails so miserably) to be serious that the line between intentional humour (of which there is definitely a fair dollop, especially in the slapstick fight sequences) and embarrassing absurdity is frequently too blurry to comprehend. It reminded me a lot of The Wicker Man remake for sheer “what were they thinking!?” value and I forsee a lot of pannings from critics on the horizon. It’s a mess, frankly. I am still unable to work out exactly what market they’re aiming at. Too silly for the Tolkien mob, too anachronistic and blindingly off-the-mark for the scholastic crowd, way too bloody for kids and yet too mind-numbingly stupid for adults. If you switch your brain off and just take it in as one of the most gloriously misguided, overblown spectacles of Dumb that you’re ever likely to see, you’ll have a blast. Otherwise, you’re in for a very long two hours.
Still, it gets my vote for Comedy of the Year.