Motion capture animation and 3D are big buzzwords in film circles these days. Far more realistic than traditional forms of hand drawn and even computer animation, the technique involves using real actors with sensors pinned to their bodies. Every limb and facial movement is recorded in intricate detail, and mapped to a character in a virtual cinematic realm. The final result borders on convincing reality, making Beowulf a prime example of what this technology might lead to.
With a script loosely based on a poem recognized by many to be the oldest English manuscript in existence, the story takes place in 6th century Denmark in a land ruled by King Hrothgar (voice of Anthony Hopkins). He (and virtually every other male in this movie) is lusting for power and sex, the target of the latter being his poor queen Wealthow (voice of Robin Wright Penn) from whom he drunkenly begs for a son.
But far greater matters are about to interrupt the usual party in the town hall -- a facility the king has designated for the specific activities of "merriment and fornication" -- when the great doors burst open and a hideous monster enters.
Grendel (voice of Crispin Glover) immediately begins snatching the humans and ripping them literally from limb to limb. Blood spurting in every direction, arms and legs tossed to and fro, the decomposing gruesome giant ravages the crowd while dripping scum from his mouth. In the aftermath, only the king, queen and a handful of others survive.
Badly wanting to clean up the neighborhood, the highness proposes to give half his wealth to anyone who can rid them of Grendel's evil. Enter Beowulf (voice of Ray Winstone), a man who comes from afar with a legend of battles with sea monsters in his portfolio. Taking on the challenge, he reveals a strange penchant for working in the nude, and battles his foe with nothing between them (except for some very carefully placed props to cover his R-rated protrusions). But the ghastly creature is only the beginning. His mother (voice and virtual body of Angelina Jolie) awaits Beowulf with the hopes of seducing him into fathering another beast. Wardrobe-wise, they make the perfect couple, with the evil goddess wearing only golden paint to cover her pixels.
Granted a PG-13 rating in the US (and similar ratings in Canada's provinces), it seems film rating boards believe virtual violence and nudity fall into a different category than "live action." However, as you experience this film (especially if you opt for the IMAX 3D version) you will discover the technology is capable of convincing you that these simulated characters are very believable. If you are the least bit queasy, or hesitate at the thought of being splashed with blood that literally spurts from the screen, you should consider a different title for your evening's entertainment, as this film ranks as possibly the most violent US rated PG-13 title ever released. Obviously, the content in this film (which looks akin to a M-rated video game) should cause parents to carefully consider whether this is a title their teens should attend.
We are destined to see more 3D and motion captured movies on our screens in the years to come, as Hollywood lures audiences with the ability to show visual dimension. Now if we can have that same depth in movie scripts, we would really have something.