I went to see Beowulf over the holiday weekend with my son. He indicated that he had read the poem in High School. When it was assigned, he felt that he just couldn't get into it, and didn't do the reading. But, he said, as the class discussed it, he realized that it might be an okay story. So, he returned to the book, read the story and liked it. He retained much of it too, because he was able to explain to me what was in the original poem and what had been filled in.
I too remember being assigned Beowulf, though I don't recall if it was in high school or college -- or both. What I do remember is that it was boring and I didn't put forth any effort to read it. This has put my understanding of Beowulf at a disadvantage.
My initial reactions to the movie was that I didn't like the animation at all. I read almost nothing about the movie and had no idea that it was motion-capture. I almost immediately balked at this, thinking that I had wasted my money on the cost of the ticket. I found the not quite so lifelike animated figures to be a distraction at first. Why would they hire actors to play roles, only to turn their figures into animation? I thought that the point of advanced technologies was to make animated scenes look life-like. Instead, the movie makes real life look unreal. The actors are an odd cross between drawing and real life. It took me some time into the film to forget about the technique and just watch the film.
I found myself making comments such as whether the idea for the drawing of Grendel came from the Bodies exhibit. I thought Grendel's mother had been envisioned as a cross between the Oscar statuette and CatWoman. I found it laughable that although Beowulf is naked in the battle with Grendel, there was always something placed strategically to block potentially offending parts of his body. Was this because they were trying to get a lower movie rating? Or because the animators couldn't agree on how to draw him without pants? After all, Beowulf exaggerated all of his feats; drawing to scale might seem too ordinary for a hero like Beowulf. Draw him too large or out of proportion and risk the focus be on the art of the drawing instead. Or, was it just intended to be funny? If that was the intent, it worked, as B and I, predicting the shots and angles, laughed through this scene, despite its violence.
I did enjoy the movie, however; I thought it was fun to watch the boastful hero tell his stories and to fight his battle victoriously against the monster. The fight scene is tremendous, outdone only by the later battle with the dragon. When you see these things, you realize that animation was the correct approach for the movie. These scenes not only lend themselves to looking like action from a video game, they also are fantastic scenes that seem best in a fantasy-like setting. So animation/motion-capture seems a good choice in this case.
I found myself at the end of the movie wishing that I had read all of the book and that I had remembered it (to say nothing of wishing that I had appreciated it). I dug a copy off the bookshelf this evening and began reading the first few pages. I'm not sure how I could not have found this interesting 30 years ago when I first read it. Now, I'm planning on reading Beowulf again. I may post at another time about the differences between the movie and the book. It will be interesting to read the work and then see the movie again and analyze Neil Gaiman's screenplay in light of a fresh reading of the text.