Friday, November 16, 2007

Rose-Colored Glasses

In a review of Beowulf today in The Los Angeles Times, "'Beowulf' isn't poetry in motion capture," a critic slams the would-be blockbuster for pandering to teenage fanboy sensibilities by offering a 3D screening for critics.

If you are old enough to vote, however, seeing all this in 3-D may not be the thrill of a lifetime. Seeing the naked rear-end of an old and overweight man in that extra dimension is probably not a treat for anyone of any age. Though it is amusing to see a return to the staples of 1950s 3-D like spears thrown directly at the audience, the film's dimensionality feels more like a gimmick than an added value.

It's true that the epic saga is a tale that should appeal to middle-aged moms, as much as the pubescent public, if it weren't for the casting of Angelina Jolie, so I'm confused about why this critic is inserted ageism into an argument about the need for more universal appeal and less videogamer niche marketing.

I've actually translated the Anglo-Saxon poem line-by-line in a seminar with William Alfred. In the text, the maternal sentiments of Grendel's mother are genuinely humanizing, so this bad adaptation that turns her into a steamy sexpot who is just an object for the male gaze seems particularly unfortunate. I also studied with Beowulf translator Seamus Heaney in college, who was similarly concerned with how great stories make the monstrous meaningful and the Other relevant to the self.

Since I don't actually have binocular vision, the attempts at vividness in the entertainment experience would also probably lose me, but -- having seen the promos for the film at the SIGGRAPH Electronic Theater -- I was already skeptical before this review.

Update: Okay, I couldn't resist. I spent my Saturday night at Beowulf in 3D. I wasn't quite prepared for how many liberties that the creators of the film took with the story, which from my perspective seemed far more egregious than even the ridiculous Troy. For those who've never read the original, you should know that the great Scandinavian hero didn't sleep with Grendel's mother; he killed her. The narrative inaccuracies didn't bother me, however, as much as the general interpretation of the story did, which was a heavy-handed celebration of imagined historical patriarchy and a not-so-subtle tale about the dangers of miscegenation. The 3D effects were quite impressive, and they even worked on frequently non-binocular me. The modeling rendered figures that should have stayed in the uncanny valley, if you asked me, since there really was no reason not to shoot in in live action.

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