As I’ve said previously in my post about Special Effects, in order for an effect to be usefull it has to add to the story without drawing attention to itself. In the case of Beowulf, the entire movie is, in essence, a special effect, and draws attention to itself at the same time.

Beowulf is the creation of director Robert Zemeckis, who was also the creative force behind The Polar Express and Monster House. Both of these older movies used the same motion-capture system as this film. When the effect was used in The Polar Express I found the result to be somewhat creepy, giving the characters waxen or Parkinsonian facial expressions and almost human-like movement.

Monster House was more effective, utilizing a combination of motion capture and computer-based animation to produce fluid animation movement and facial expressiveness rather than trying to simulate reality. Using the technique to improve on computer-based animation was very effective. However, since Beowulf is an attempt to produce a live-action-based non-animated film, it is hobbled by its own special effect.

The story of Beowulf is well known to most high-school students. It is the story of a Danish hero (named, of course, Beowulf and played by Ray Winstone, who looks absolutely nothing like the character Beowulf in real life) who is called upon to save King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins) and his comely young wife Wealthow (Robin Wright Penn) from the deformed, twisted beast that menaces his kingdom, Grendel.

However, Grendel is more than just a beast. He is also the son of water demon (played with seductive grace by Angelina Jolie). When Grendel is killed by Beowulf, it rapidly becomes clear that there is more to the story that we are initially led to believe. And Beowulf discovers that he will have to face Grendel’s seductive mother in order to obtain when he desires.

The scenes where the motion capture system are the most effective are the animation of Grendel and his brother. In the magnificent climax to the movie, Beowulf is forced to fight a huge dragon. However, other sequences, particularly where the technique is used to try to generate realistic facial expressions, fall flat.

Again, my biggest complaint is that the special effect, motion capture, draws far too much attention to itself and is thus less effective than it could be. For many audience members, the question that arises during the viewing of the movie is: “Why use the effect at all?”

Although there are sequences that would be heavily reliant on computer-generated effects, the majority of the movie would have been more realistic and effective populated with real characters rather than computer-based ones.

This is not a bad movie. At some points the action was amazing and the computer effects startingly realistic.

However, because of the complaints above I give it ** 1/2 Jessicas out of four.


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