Monday, November 12, 2007

Beowulf In The Valley Of The Uncanny

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.


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