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Monday, June 22, 2009

Beowulf (movie review)

I – AM – BEOWULF! A scene that still stands out in my mind as the Geatland warrior erupts out of the eyeball of a sea monster after being swallowed. MAN, a fucking awesome movie this was. Now, I knew absolutely nothing about this story or film going into it, but I did know that it was about scantingly clad Scandinavian warriors in a sword and sorcery epic, and the film was shot in digital 3-D.

Robert Zemeckis (director of such earlier films as the Back to the Future trilogy, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Forest Gump and Death Becomes Her) continues with his technological film making expertise by making the film of Beowulf. Zemeckis utilizes the same motion capture techniques he did on his earlier film of The Polar Express which at time you can't even tell you are watching computer generated actors, or if the camera is truly on them. But the film is also in digital 3-D, or sometimes mentioned as true-d. The film REALLY feels like you are a part of the grande scope of the film, you are flying through the woods, you are having arrows whizzing by your heads – and Zemeckis can utilize a simple crane or dolly shot and you are in the midst of fighting Grendel or a golden dragon.

The film was written and adapted by Neil Gaiman (from comic book fame of writing The Sandman Series) and Roger Avary (a close friend and co-writer with Quentin Tarantino). After reading up on the poem and examining it's elements, I could clearly see the contrast between the film and the story. The writers took some free will into their own interpretations of the story, and took a basic tale of a feuding warrior that kills a troll, a serpent and a dragon – has much more connections and lineation to the Bible. It is even estimated that the ancient poem was translated by Christian monks and had lines inserted about Christianity. Because most scholars believe that although the era that the epic takes place, the Germanic/Scandinavian tribes weren't Christianized yet. BUT elements of Christianity are brought up by certain characters, such as John Malkovich's Unferth, who can be seen as a Norse Wiseman at the beginning of the film, but clearly bears a large golden cross and perhaps a priest by the end of the film.

So yeah, the story of the tale can be clear and dry as a warrior comes to town to kill a monster, save the girl, appease the king and go back home to the lands of the Geats. Some of the actors and writers thought that the story didn't go much further into that, so they delved deeper into the mythos and created several other themes that you can find predominately in the movie now: [NOTE: The movie review is a little interactive, kinda like a "Choose Your Fate" book. So in order to read about the movie in order, follow the steps to go to the correct Theme section]

Theme 1: The sins of the father…a motif and phrase repeated over and over again in the Bible, but also pre-dominate in another epic poem, Homer's The Odyssey. The line is even repeated again and again by Unferth after he is attacked by the golden dragon. Okay, let me explain this theme's origins a little bit more….. SPOILERS AHEAD………….

Okay, so first off in the film, there is this troll/monster being called Grendel, who is played by Crispin Glover (who also worked on the Back to the Future series with Zemeckis as George McFly). In the original story, the monster just likes to come to King Hrothgar's (played by a normally drunk and shameless Sir Anthony Hopkins) hall to kill some men and run away. In the film, you see this throbbing sore that is embedded into the Grendel's left ear that can not stand the sound of merry making from this court. The Grendel appears a few times, kills some people, eats a few others, but when he approaches the King, the King tells him that he will fight him, but the monster disappears back to his lair. It is stated in the poem that the King is protected by God, and why the Grendel wouldn't hurt him – but in the film we are left to interpret later that perhaps the King sired the Grendel and this creature is now his curse whenever his people get a little bit too rowdy. Grendel is a party pooper.

SO, there is no one in town to kill this creature, so they put up a want ad for a monster slayer, and Beowulf takes the call. Beowulf comes to town with his 14 battle hungry thanes. The King is pretty sure that Beowulf can kill the beast, and he tells him that, "if you can kill the Grendel, I will give you my wife and half of my treasure." The most coveted of all treasures the King possesses is the ..:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com
:office:smarttags" />Golden Horn of Fafnir. Now, I can't recall if that is the official name, but it is this cup shaped like a dragon's horn that you can drink mead out of. The King talks about how he slayed the dragon Fafnir (ALSO Fafnir is the name of the dragon from Dio's Killing the Dragon album) and how he had to slice it's throat open with a small dagger to pierce it's heart. A small plot device into some foreshadowing at the end of the film.

Beowulf goes for it, he kills the Grendel with his bare hands and becomes a hero. He decides to venture out into the outerlands and kill Grendel's Mother, who is a water demon that can shape shift anywhere into a sexy Oscar looking statue, a sea/serpent or Angelina Jolie. Beowulf goes in there with armor, a sword and the horn of Fafnir, whose golden glow is the only thing that can guide him into the cave………(for the continuing part of this story, jump over to the THEME 2 – Temptation section)………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

{You should have just read the section of Theme 3 before reading anymore of this}…..okay, this Golden Dragon attacks the Church of Unferth. There the half dragon/half man being tells Unferth, "I have a message for my father….." Unferth is carried back into town, laid out on a crucifix shaped stretcher and repeats to Beowulf again and again, "the sins of the father, the sins of the father…" Due to Beowulfs lying and deceitfulness to his people, and breaking his vow infused from temptation, he has brought damnation to his kingdom.

He now knows that he must rid the kingdom once and for all of this menacing golden dragon. He once again returns to the Mother's cave, with sword in one hand and Golden horn in other. He is yet again standing next to the typical fantasy/best friend role of Wiglaf (who is played by Brenden Gleeson, who is practically reprising his best friend/warrior role as he was to Sir William Wallace's best friend in Braveheart, but you might recall him of a more recent role in the Harry Potter series of Mad Eye Moody.)

Beowulf tries to confide in Wiglaf the truth, but he doesn't want to hear it. Actually, Wiglaf is probably one of the most sensible and level headed characters in the whole film. He knows when the shit hits the fan, to pack the boat and run, and there is a reason why he is last of the fourteen danes left from Grendel's mother's revenge. But instead, Beowulf tries to tell him that if anything happens to me, you are going to be the King. Beowulf then enters the cave, he tries to give the horn back but the Mother says it's too late. Then the golden dragon arises, and begins to attack the kingdom. The CGI on the dragon is great, and you can even notice some of the facial features of Beowful in its own creation.

To quicly wrap up the rest of the film, the Dragon lays scourge on the land and attacks everything that Beowulf possesses. Similar to typical "Sins of the father," archetypes where they will destroy everything of the father's. Here, I like to think of these final scenes of like Luke and Darth Vader, or perhaps Baron Frankenstein and his Creature – taking away everything he holds dear. Eventually Beowulf is able to kill the dragon but dies in the process. He fulfills the prophecy and looks back to how he should have lived his life. Devoid or arrogance, temptation and violence. Beowulf dies a tragic hero. ………(for the continuing part of this story, jump over to the THEME 2 – Temptation section)

Theme 2: Temptation, Beowulf enters the cave and what he expects to find of Grendel's mother as a ferocious looking creature, as really a very sexy, golden, harden nippled, DSL plumped up Angelia Jolie. The mother is really upset that the Grendel is dead, and all she wants to have is a heir. She tells Beowulf it has been sooo long since she has had a man come visit her, and all that Beowulf has to do is bang her and leave the golden horn there, she will make him the greatest king of all time, and his legends of heroics will live on forever through song and tales long after everything he knows turns to dust. The mother is the purest form of temptation in the film, and was a plot device also created by the writing team.

It was their interpretation to find out why they thought the Grendel would steal men from the town and take them back to the cave – well so that the mother could have sex with them and sire more heirs. It is hinted in the film that Grendel and his mother are the last of the demonic kind, and it is told in the poem that they are both from the blood line of Cain in the Bible. SO, instead of Beowulf cutting off her head like he does in the poem, he is sucked into her temptation. Like I said, she is physically temptation with this hot body, but she is golden and surrounded by gold. The golden horn of Fafnir is a re-occurring device used as an extension of her temptation outside of the cave. The horn seduced the King into siring her Grendel, and now the horn seduces Beowulf.

Beowulf screws her and leaves the horn there. The only stipulation he needs to do in order to maintain his socio/economic status is that he leaves the horn in the cave with her and give her an heir. Beowulf agrees and returns to the town to tell the towns people what he has accomplished…and there was much rejoicing. But this whole weak willed men by gold motif made me think a lot about The Lord of the Rings and how much Tolkien could have been possibly influence by this tale into his device of "the one to rule them all." ………(for the continuing part of this story, jump over to the THEME 3 – DECEIT INTO ASCENSION)………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

{You should have just read the ending section of Theme 1 before reading anymore of this}…..Okay, so now Beowulf is dead, and in true Viking fashion, he gets a Viking funeral and he is burnt on a boat full of his golden possessions. His best friend/sidekick Wiglaf is now the King, and he is strolling along on the beach. He watches the final embers on Beowulf's boat take it down to the ocean to hence he came, and in the distance, Wiglaf can see Jolie/Mother Creature rising out from the Ocean and giving the corpse of Beowulf a final kiss before he sinks into her depths.

Then, the Golden Cup of Fafnir washes up on the shore. The temptation has gone full circle as Wiglaf picks up the horn, cleans it up and stares at it in amazement. He is bewildered and can't believe his eyes to see and stare at the beautiful woman calling to him to come out into the sea with her. Wiglaf walks out to her, he is waste deep in the ocean, his body glows with temptation. Does he take the bait and become seduced like the two previous kings? Or would he break the cycle? I feel this makes a great ending and REALLY gets you to think in a film, instead of being told what to think. Personally, I feel that Wiglaf would go out there to kill her, as he would know just a little about this witch's trickery.


THEME 3: DECEIT INTO ASCENSION- Once Beowulf arrives back into town, he tells everyone that he has killed the monster. You can tell of the uncomfortableness he has on his face when they begin to ask him, "what happened to this….or what happened to the Golden horn….where is the head of Grendel's mother….?" Beowulf tip toes around certain lies, and becomes quite upset when the King asks him in private where the head of the Mother was, and if he really did kill her. The King can obliviously see that Beowulf is lying to him, as the King was more than likely down that same road before. I also feel that the King's tall tale of killing the Dragon was probably one of his ways into ascension of the throne, who in the same process accepted the price of not having any children of his own except for the Grendel.

Beowulf is also known for his weavings of tall tales to instill his own status of super hero as many of his Danes know of his exaggerations of killing sea monsters and the like. BUT, once the King realizes that Grendel is dead, and what Beowulf has just gone though in order to achieve his own social status in the Kingdom, he knows he is no longer needed and that the Mother's curse is no longer his. He decrees that Beowulf will be his heir and he then kills himself.

Beowulf becomes the King, and the story jumps ahead fifty years or so. He has amassed an empire, and a small village is now a huge stone castle with a gated community. He feels terrible for what he has become, and even announces to a small soldier that tries to kill him, "that I died a long time ago." The King Beowulf has done what he had to achieve his social status, but now something comes back into his possession…The Golden Horn of Fafnir.

A slave boy on the outlands discovers the horn and returns it to the King. Beowulf questions, "is that it? Was there no witch, no monster – no woman to go with it?" The boy agrees, and in turn Beowulf breaks his promise to Grendel's mother. Beowulf kinda has this look on his face of like, "hmmm, she is gone, now I can keep the horn," which I don't know understand why this horn is so freakin' possessive, I mean, it looks pretty and all, but I think that if I made a deal with a golden Jolie witch, I'd keep my promise. So, on the next day, a golden dragon terrorizes the land and burns down the church of Unferth. The way that Beowulf breaks his promise to Grendel's mother, heavily reminds me of the short story in Tales from the Darkside the Movie called "Lover's Vow," (that story where Ajax from The Warriors is this talented artist in desperate need of inspiration. One night he sees a Gargoyle kill a man, the Gargoyle promises that he will let Ajax live as long as he never tells a living soul. In turn, Ajax becomes inspired with Gargoyle-esque art and he becomes a big sensation. He then falls in love with Rae Dawn Chong, and years pass, until he eventually confides in Rae that he doesn't want any secrets between them. Ajax breaks his promise, and Rae Dawn turns into the Gargoyle and kills Ajax. Gotta keep your promise!) ………(for the continuing part of this story, jump over to the THEME 1 – The sins of the father)

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