Out to the IMAX cinema in Waterloo with Mr Kim Newman to see the 3D version of Beowulf
. Given I’m not big on heroic fantasy and think The Vikings
was about as good a film as it was possible to make about sword-swinging looting and pillaging Danes, I was pleasantly surprised. The script nicely compresses the poem into classic Hollywood three-act format and adds a couple of neat plot twists, and the story, in which the hero takes on a monster, the monster’s mother and a dragon (not to mention a bunch of sea serpents), is perfect subject matter for the technique of using digitally-enhanced live action within a computer-rendered setting, previously deployed by director Robert Zemeckis in Polar Express
. Digital animation means that anything is possible except, because of the Uncanny Valley effect
, entirely believable scenes in which the actors do nothing but talk to each other, and so the first half, where most of the exposition lies, is sometimes a bit laboured and reminiscent of cut-scenes in computer games (even if they are the most exquisitely detailed cut-scenes you’ve ever experienced). It doesn’t help that Ray Winstone, otherwise fine as the misguided hero, occasionally lapses into broad Cockernee (‘I have come to kill a Monstah!’), and the scene where he gets naked before his fight with Grendel is distractingly reminiscent of the opening of Austin Powers in The Spy Who Shagged Me
. But once the story gets going and hurtles towards its tragic-heroic conclusion it grips more firmly. There are stunning coupes de theatre, including a wonderful reverse tracking shot through a dark and wintery wood, dynamic action scenes, and the best goddamn dragon I’ve ever seen: once it roars into action the film literally takes off. If you’re going to see it, though, be good to your inner 13-year-old kid and make sure you catch it in IMAX 3D; I don’t think that it will quite work in any other format.
Coming out of the cinema, heading over Waterloo Bridge, there was a vast plume of smoke rising to the east and unpacking above the Thames and South London; just for a moment, Kim and I wondered if This Was It again; nope, just a very big fire at a disused bus garage in the Olympic site in Hackney: bonfire of the vanities.