It seems that the filmindustry has come up with something to get the audience back from their supersized tvs and dolby surround sets: the 3D movie. Because of the theme I was interested in this film and also I was curious how far the technique of 3D film actually is, so we went to see the spectacle of “Beowulf”. Let me start with the film.
The version of Zemeckis stays much closer to the 8th century poem than “Beowulf & Grendel”, which is a big plus. Beowulf comes to help king Hrothgar who has problems with a man-slaying monster which is much closer to the description in the classic epic than in the other film. The fight with Grendel is rather short and some details are nicely introduced to the film. The killing of Grendel doesn’t solve the problem, since his mother comes to take revenge and it is with the introduction of this mother, that the story begins to show adaptations. Instead of a fierce, man-eating monster, the mother of Grendel has become the beautiful, naked (but sexless) Angelina Jolie who seduces kings and has great riches. Beowulf goes to fight her like in the story, becomes king when Hrothgar dies and builds a massive castle. None of this comes from the poem. The drinking cup that unleaches the dragon (see later) got a big promotion too. What Zemeckis does use and very well, is Beowulf’s fight with the dragon, a part of the story that is completely left out in “Beowulf & Grendel”. Also the end follows the poem, so inspite of a few (rather big) adaptations, this new version of the Beowulf poem is fairly true to text.
Next, the film. Instead of red and green coloured glasses, you now get glasses that slightly shift your view in order to bring the two layers of film together. This produces amazing depth! I was impressed how clear this 3D looks and how much depth can be made with this technique. What is less impressive, is that everything is ‘animated’, so even though in the characters you can clearly see Angelina Jolie, John Malkovich or Anthony Hopkins, they all come from the computer obviously. What I found most strange is that the character such as Beowulf, Wiglaf of Grendel’s mother is amazing in detail, while Unferth and sometimes Wealthow look like clay figures. It is af if there was not the time or the money to make everything equally perfect. What is a big pro of the computer technique is that Grendel is brilliant. He is big, ugly, drewls and bleeds all over the audience and at least is able to eat a man in a few bites (the fact that Grendel is turned into a pityfull creature is an adaptation, but does add something to the film). As for the rest, the film is obviously made to be a 3D film. I wonder what it looks like in the normal version, because scenes in which the camera slowly moves backwards through a forest, or into the mead-hall from above or a warrior pointing his spear towards the audience will look silly if not in 3D. The 3D here and there has Disneyland things just to show it is 3D, but in many cases, it really adds an extra layer to the film experience. When Wealthow almost falls down the way too high castle of Beowulf, the depth is amazing and especially with the extremely carefully constructed fight with the dragon is impressive (I think this scene used most of the budget). In normal scenes with people in a hall, the 3D is a nice extra, but it really shows its value in fighting scenes (men and rubble being thrown into the audience, the extreme depth of a cliff that the dragon flies over, etc.).
Because the best effect is produced when looking through the classes in a particular way, I had to keep my head quite still and eventually I got a bit of a headache. There are also some elements can have to be improved (try working with real actors please!), but overall, for the first 3D film that I see, I am really impressed and it surely is a technique to develop further in order to give cinema a new impulse.
Conclusion: a 4 out of 5 for the film (story) and a 4 out of 5 for the filmimg. If you want to see “Beowulf”, be sure to see it in 3D!