the better truth

the better truth

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Beowulf (2007)

Out of the Dark Ages

One doesn’t usually turn to old English epic sagas from the dark ages as material for main-stream American feature films. “Beowulf” is an exception. Studio execs went out on limb and it paid off – and not just financially. My decision to see this film was based on default – not desire. I live in a rural town and I’d seen everything else. The first few minutes were rough going. Not only was I sitting through a Hollywood version of an ancient poem – IT WAS ANIMATED. I was wondering if an early exit was in order – if I left now – the local restaurants would still be serving dinner. I withstood the “bust’em up”, “blood and gore” of the opening sequence. It reminded me of a television spot that ran a few years ago for the Marines in which a dragon is slain. But the film settled down… and so did I.

Certainly the director has the younger set in mind in terms of pyrotechnics of the animation. Video games are having an effect on features – in this case it worked. “Beowulf” is in many respects a comic book from the last millennium. The issue of “realness” fades and many of the fine performers’ work pushes through the advanced graphics. But what makes things click is the writer’s clever adaptation of the story. The cornerstone of the work, the monster and his mother, are given an extra dimension in terms of their relationships with the protagonists. This in turn makes the story more than simply a testosterone-fest of bad-guy-killing. These heroes are flawed AND they are linked to the forces of doom.

This alteration to the storyline opens up this work to both the fans of “Grand Theft Auto” and “The Seventh Seal”. Let the kids marvel as bodies fly and the camera swoons. There is room for adults, who have weathered generational changes, to muse about the real conflicts afflicting Beowulf and the other nobles. Kudos should also be given to the filmmakers for presenting these characters’ ambivalence about the rise of monotheism and the Christian sensibility. This is not a stab at any faith but a recognition that not everyone at that time fell in line with the Church’s ascent. I understand this is very much a part of the original text. Many make noise about the current American films being immoral – well praise should be given when a film examines the nature of morality in an intelligent way that is approachable to many different audiences. Unfortunately many of these critics will focus on the debauchery and violence – those are only a few of the notes in this surprisingly edifying rendering of a literary classic. This film is not for the faint of heart; but those who throw stones should remember their bible. The last book certainly would merit more than a PG-13.

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