(Some sex references and strong language under the cut; the film described is a 12A.)
I went to see Beowulf today and it is stunning, stupendous, staggering, simply gobsmacking. Brilliant.
My nearest cinema has taken Beowulf off already, so I had to travel 45 minutes to Cineworld at
I’ve never read the story or studied the text, so I had very little idea what to expect. All I knew was that Beowulf was a hero, the text was written in Old English, and Seamus Heaney published an acclaimed translation a few years ago. I went because of this review in the Independent (in their “You Write the Reviews” section), and because the only two people I know who have seen it – two people so different they would despise each other if they ever met – both said, basically, “It’s brilliant, amazing, wonderful. You must see it.”
I was staggered at the quality of the CGI / animation; I’ve never seen anything like it. I was brought up by the sea, and miss it so much, but the rendering of the sea in this film was so real in places it was healing to my soul to see it (bit wanky there, but it destroys my soul to go through every day never seeing the sea). All the scenes of the sea, at the beginning and end of the movie, were magnificent. By about ten minutes in, I’d already decided I had to get the DVD, and I really don’t buy very many (unless it’s John or Phil!)
The detail of the characterisation was wonderful – for example the Queen has little blemishes on her face, the King has a beergut and man-boobs, and Beowulf has a magnificent six-pack and all sorts of little scars and nicks over his body from previous fights.
And that’s the only bit that I thought was handled badly. Beowulf decides to fight the monster Grendel au naturel - which was absolutely fine by me, and when I find out who modelled for the arse I want him washed and brought to my tent – but they went to great lengths not only to not show any dangly bits, but to draw attention to the fact that they weren’t showing any dangly bits.
Now the thing about Beowulf as characterised in this film (I can’t speak for the original) is that if he were to go into battle naked, it would be with an erection big enough and fine enough to fly a flag from, sport its own horned Viking helmet and do service as a spare club.
I don’t know what the laws are on that sort of thing nowadays, although I have an idea that showing an erect penis used to be automatically illegal hard-core stuff, so I guess we were never going to actually see the fine upstanding cock of the fine upstanding hero. But if that’s the case, then why not just give him some clothes – or a rather fetching loin-cloth arrangement such as he had in a later scene? Why have him gloriously naked only to crassly, clumsily and continually draw attention to the area they’re not showing? (I honestly wasn’t just watching for that, at least not to start with, but they made it so obvious they were avoiding showing his prick that I ended up just looking for how they were going to hide it next.)
There was no tactful obscuring or soft-focus stuff: when he lay on his back sleeping, there was the centre-fold raised knee, and when he was fighting, all sorts of people and objects were pointedly (sorry) interposed between us and the area in question.
Given that the film contains a lot of language and references to sex, this seemed rather out of keeping. I have a useless memory for things that I’ve heard rather than read, but I’m sure I remember a song containing words along the lines of “...and it took a whole fucking iceberg / to cool her burning twat”. Also, one of the serving women talks about hoping “his legs will stay good and strong – all three of them.”
(Beowulf certainly was believable as a sex object, but I never quite came to terms with the mismatch between his voice and his face. From the moment we first saw Beowulf, he reminded me of Sean Bean – specifically Richard Sharpe – and the voice was so not right for that. Throughout the film I had that same WTF? reaction every time he opened his mouth.)
In addition to the sex talk, the monster Grendel itself was brilliantly horrific – I had to look away at a few points – and there were quite graphic scenes of people being attacked and killed, strung up etc, so the whole “no willy” bit seemed a bit strange to me.
However, all that aside, I thought the film was brilliant. I’ve no idea how true to the original the story was, but I was amused by the way Beowulf was led around by the dick and only became a true hero once he was too old to be the rampant lover any more. I also thought the references to Christianity being a very negative influence were interesting, and as the film went on, more and more characters seemed to be sporting crosses.
The thing that I really didn’t get, was what was so amazingly attractive about Grendel’s mother. We were asked to believe that she was so amazingly sexy that Beowulf would sell his soul, his honour and the safety of the kingdom just to put it up her, and I couldn’t see it at all. OK, so as a straight female I was never going to fall for her, but I just couldn’t see the attraction at all, which was a bit of a weak point for me. It just didn’t ring true. And then, Beowulf’s right-hand man – never did get his name – looked set for exactly the same course, knowing where it led. Although, they’re men... enough said.
My main memory of the film, though, is of sitting totally entranced for the entire time, completely immersed in the story, the bravado, the horror and grief, the unexpected plausibility of it all. I am a bit of a weepy git at the best of times, but by the end I was completely wrung out. I felt almost out of time, in a different world, when I stumbled out into the light, and I had to sit in my car for at least ten minutes before I felt connected to reality enough to start the engine. I wish I could go back and watch it all over again tomorrow, because this is a film which demands to be seen on a big screen.