So. Beowulf, the medieval epic poem written in a precursor to English in the 10th century has been brought to the screen by Robert Zemeckis with a cutting-edge technology. Eschewing the combination of the live action and computer generated imagery that marks most science fiction and fantasy movies these days, Zemeckis uses the motion capture technique first showcased in Final Fantasy and The Polar Express where actors performances are captured, digitized, and repainted in the purely digital realm of the rest of the movie. The juxtaposition of 21st century moviemaking technology against a 10th century poem is not as odd as it might seem given the fantastical nature Beowulf’s exploits in the poem. Beowulf’s epic battles against sea monsters and destruction of the creature Grendel defy realistic depiction. But then again, so does The Lord of the Rings, and they did pretty well using real actors. The most interesting aspect to me of the motion-capture animated actors in Beowulf is how immediately obvious it is that they are not images of real people. If you look at a still frame image of Beowulf, it is difficult if not impossible to identify any particular aspect of the images of the people that is not a perfect representation of a human. However, the faces are clearly not human faces. It says something about the remarkable ability of the human mind to identify real human faces and not be fooled by what appear to be perfect simulacra. The characters move jerkily and their contact with each other and with props does not have the heft of real people. I find it distracting and prefer to see actors rather than digital conversions of their performances.
So, after all that, how is the movie? It’s entertaining and has a lot of cool-looking stuff, though it’s not emotionally engaging at all.