Well, but it's not that Beowulf wasn't good, either; I just didn't enjoy it as much as I expected to. I can't really fault it; it's well-made, well-acted, and well done. I don't want to be one of those snobs that don't count motion-capture animation as "acting"; let me not to the marriage of true genius admit impediments. The cast was really good for the most part; casting Robin Wright Penn as the queen was inspired. And the final action sequence was breath-taking.
As for what I didn't like about it...it was very, very violent, and had a lot of gore. It helped a little bit that it was computer animated gore, and it was certainly germane to the story (which, it's important to note, was written in the Middle Ages), but that sort of thing will always turn me off.
As for the story itself, it has been many, many years since I read it (and I don't believe I even read the whole thing), but in its generalities it's consistent with the story as I remember it: Beowulf engages three monsters, to wit Grendel, Grendel's mother, and a dragon; in fighting the dragon when he's old he ends up losing his life as well. What I don't remember in the story was Beowulf and Hrothgar doing Grendel's mother and the dragon and Grendel being their respective offspring with her. In the movie it's presented in such a way that it could have happened (and needless to say the movie required a huge suspension of disbelief in the first place, so it wasn't much of a stretch to accept their premise), but I just found it icky, and especially icky because Grendel's mother was played by Angelina Jolie, whom I have always found icky for reasons that I can't articulate, so I didn't want him to give into her. I also didn't like how it was presented as though Grendel's mother "wins" in that she, as a water demon, seems to claim the bodies of Hrothgar and Beowulf as they're put out to sea, and even at the end Brendan Gleeson stares at her for what seems like five minutes and suddenly gets a golden glow on his face to imply that she has him in thrall as well. That annoyed me. I wanted Brendan Gleeson to be a better man and reject her. I suppose this is what they had to do to make Beowulf a well-developed character, because originally he's really not (to be fair, I don't think character development had been invented yet when it was written). I suppose, too, you could give it all sorts of different allegorical or symbolic meanings, but...I just didn't care for that aspect of it.
And then I only had a couple other little nitpicks about it. First, when Grendel and his mother are talking, I wish they had been subtitled, because beshrew me if I could understand most of what they were saying (it was Tia Dalma all over again). Second, when Beowulf gets ready to fight Grendel he takes off all his clothes (although not his little headband) so that he and Grendel will be evenly matched. They then proceeded to always have some computer-animated object obscuring his genital area (although we do see his butt). Now, I don't care to see the floppy and hairy portions of human anatomy depicted on film, and I'm sure there are many good reasons why they didn't want to show full-frontal male nudity (though they didn't have a problem with full-frontal female nudity, which annoys me a little bit); and yet, I kind of wish that, just once, there'd been a good, clear, unmistakable shot of Beowulf's penis. Because, in the first place, if a guy were really fighting someone while nude, it's unrealistic that his genitals would always be obscured; if you were watching, you would certainly see something. Moreover, as impressive as the animation is, with the motion-capture and all, I still can't help but be conscious of the fact that I'm watching an animated movie. And if I don't see Beowulf's penis, for all I know the animators just didn't bother to put it in, which makes the rest of the movie that much more implausible.
That said, my final thought on the movie is that it says something about Beowulf and Hrothgar that Hrothgar's demon-offspring was a misbegotten pile of rotting flesh, while Beowulf's was a beautiful and majestic dragon. What specifically that says about them I'll leave to individual interpretation. I really hope Mike Nelson does a Rifftrax of this movie when it comes out on DVD.
Anyway, there are a lot of movies coming up (and some right soon) that I really want to see. I didn't realize until today that The Mist was coming out so soon. I'm really looking forward to that; I've not read the book but it's a Frank Darabont adaptation of a Stephen King book, so if history is any indication it will be phenomenally brilliant. The trailer certainly looks suspenseful.
Until yesterday I had never heard of the movie Enchanted, but it looks delightful. I don't know if it'll be delightful in the sense of Disney parodying itself or if it will have some actual substance to it. In other words, I don't know if it will have artistic value, but it's sure to have entertainment value. In any case, it gives me a thrill of nostalgic satisfaction to see Disney going back to its roots of combining hand-drawn animation and live-action, and if it's only to self-parody, so be it. I like parody.
Speaking of Disney, it's also putting out the National Treasure sequel (or, as I like to call it, the "secular DaVinci Code") soon. I didn't care enough to notice when, but I have to admit, I do kind of want to see it, just because they go to Mount Rushmore, and it's always fun to see a movie that's set in/was filmed in a place that you know.
And of course Sweeney Todd again! Got to see the trailer on the big screen today; so exciting! Worth the price of admission just for that! I read a very interesting article from the New York Times about it recently. It was interesting to read about how Johnny Depp learned the music (by listening to it four hours a day in the car, apparently, and lordy can I ever believe that). Also, I suspect that him starting to learn the music while finishing up Pirates of the Caribbean might account for Sweeney Todd having the same voice as Jack Sparrow, but perhaps that was a conscious choice. What I'm wondering now is, how much does he really sing? The "singing bit" that they show in the trailer has him speaking quite a few of the lyrics, so he might be taking what some of us call the "Rex Harrison" route; on the other hand, since the "singing bit" in the trailer is literally only a few seconds long, it might not be representative of the work as a whole. I like what he said in the article, though, about finding his own voice for Sweeney. When I sang Sondheim I had to do the same thing, although in that case it was sort of the opposite of his situation in that the woman who had originated my role spoke most of the lyrics instead of singing them, but I definitely had to find my own voice for the character because that woman also sang an octive lower than I do (somehow it seemed lower still). I hope the musical theater snobs will be receptive to what he's doing, but you know what? Movies are movies and musicals are musicals and even when you do movie musicals you don't do them exactly the way they're done on stage. So I say to Mr. Burton, Mr. Depp, et.al.: more power to you! The advantage of movie musicals is that they democratize Broadway, so fu*k the Sondheim snobs 'cuz if Sondheim himself is happy (or at least sanguine) about it, that's all that matters.
And then there's The Golden Compass. I've been only vaguely aware of the books on which the movie is based, but once I heard that Bill Donahue of the so-called "Catholic League" had vent his spleen upon it, I knew I had to see it, just to show my utter contempt for Bill Donahue and every curmudgeonly ignorant word that has ever come out of his mouth. (For the history of my argument with Bill Donahue, please click here.)
Then I got a forwarded e-mail from a friend of mine, and actually I didn't read the forwarded part because I knew it would either be Bill Donahue's recycled spleen vent or further ignorant vitriol fashioned from it, but I did read the part my friend wrote and I did read the Snopes page she linked to about it, which essentially said that it was allegedly trying to "trick" children into becoming atheists. This just goes to show that even a graduate student in English literature can make dumb decisions and even good friends can annoy you sometimes. Without having seen the movie, I suspect that saying it's supposed to "trick" children into becoming atheists is like saying that the Chronicles of Narnia (books and movie[s] both) are trying to "trick" children into becoming Christians. In the first place, apparently this Mr. Pullman is quite outspoken and on-the-record about his atheism (just as C.S. Lewis was quite outspoken about his Christianity...well, he was a theological scholar, but as atheists necessarily don't have a theology I don't know that there's a direct analogy to be made), so I think it's pretty ignorant to say that either of them are trying to "trick" anyone into believing (or disbelieving) anything. Secondly, I think there's a difference between trying to "trick" someone into believing something and creating something from a particular viewpoint. It goes back to the difference between art and propaganda. W.E.B. DuBois said, "All art is propaganda and ever must be", but I disagree. I think the difference between art and propaganda--the fundamental difference--is that art is open to interpretation, and propaganda is not. I think that if an artist has a viewpoint, that viewpoint is going to show up in the work, and if the artist is also really vocal about his* viewpoint, that does narrow the scope for interpretation somewhat, but in a work of art, there will always be some room for interpretation. For example, to C.S. Lewis, Aslan was Christ, but that doesn't mean that Aslan is or necessarily must be Christ for everyone. When I saw the movie version of The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe after however many years of literary study, yeah, the Christ allegory was pretty much impossible to ignore (also, the White Witch riding around wearing a goat headdress wasn't exactly subtle either). But when I first read the book when I was 10 years old and in 4th grade, the notion never occurred to me, and in fact, many years later when I found out that C.S. Lewis was a Christian scholar, I was surprised. And I've been a Christian all my life, I'm well familiar with Christ's story; heck, at that point I'd spent five summers acting part of it out in the Black Hills Passion Play (admittedly, at that point I'd only participated in the first half of the Passion Play, so before the persecution starts; but I'd seen pictures, I knew what it was about). So I'm quite sure that, had I not been a Christian I would never have seen the parallels had not someone pointed them out to me, and I doubt that it would have persuaded me to convert either.
Now, not having seen the Golden Compass movie (or read the books), I can't say whether it is art or propaganda. If it's as heavy-handed in its secularism as Chronicles of Narnia is in its Christian allegory, I probably won't enjoy it. But I'll be damned--in fact, I'll march off to hell of my own accord--if I let Bill Donahue inform my opinion of it. I'll make up my own mind, thank you sir, and by the way, I still maintain that you'd do much more to further the cause of Catholic anti-defamation by keeping your hateful mouth shut.