“Beowulf” ups the animation ante
I have seen the future of animation and behold, its name is “Beowulf.” More specifically and accurately, “performance-capture” an emerging form of digital animation that uses sensors fixed to live actors and allows directors to create stunning realism without the limitations of traditional filming processes.
You have seen forms of it (also sometimes called “motion capture”) used in “Polar Express,” “300,” and popular video games, but “Beowulf” raises the bar significantly, blurring the line between fantasy and reality. Sure, human movements can occasionally seem a bit too automaton-like, and faces still occasionally appear overly-botoxed, but there are plenty of scenes in “Beowulf” where the viewer completely forgets he is watching an animated film.
And one more bonus, the technology almost convinces us Angelina Jolie can act.
“Beowulf” is set in the sixth century in a Denmark kingdom besieged by a monster named Grendel, (the perfectly cast, always creepy Crispin Glover) who torments King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins) by mutilating and devouring his men. “I am Beowulf and I’m here to kill your monster,” pronounces the dashing hero, who promptly disrobes (no, really) and summarily takes on the morbid beast. In doing so, he earns the King’s throne and much younger wife (Robin Wright Penn). Enter the beast’s water goddess mum (Jolie), who successfully tempts Beowulf and ensnares him in a Faustian twist that will torture him for life.
Purists will curse the liberties director Robert Zemeckis takes with the ancient poem, but most audiences will be too caught up in the dazzling swordplay and striking battle sequences to worry about poetic license.
In fact, the beauty of “Beowulf’s” technology is the liberty it provides filmmakers by allowing them to put credible versions of real actors in circumstances deemed impossible only a few years ago.
It also allows for graphic renderings without requiring the actors to, shall we say, bare all for the camera. Indeed, “Beowulf” pushes the boundaries of the PG-13 rating with plenty of implied nudity, so much that had it been live action it surely would have garnered an R rating. But with animation this good, your imagination doesn’t have to be.
Young males will surely delight while responsible parents should give pause.
And one more appreciated element: The film has a sort of sardonic wit about its own epic exploits; the characters are playfully Tolkeinesque rather than arduously self-serious a la Frank Miller.
And this technology comes in a super-sized IMAX 3-D version. Yowsah!
The three most commercially successful directors of our time, James Cameron, Steven Spielberg, and Peter Jackson all plan on using “performance-capture” technology in their upcoming films.
But let it be written that “Beowulf” was the first film of its kind to successfully obscure the meaning of “animation.”
PG-13 for animated violence and nudity.