Tuesday, August 28, 2007

To animate or not animate? That is the question.

Just finished watching the trailer for the new, animated Beowulf movie directed by Robert Zemeckis.

You can check it out here on YouTube.

First off, I love the story of Beowulf. It was required reading in my high school. I even made a tongue-in-cheek video with four of my classmates to show in our senior English class. Not sure if it was that great, but our teacher liked our creativity so we all ended up getting an A. During that time, we also read another cool story Sir Gaiwain and the Green Knight which, in my opinion, would make a finer animated movie than this.

That said, I recently read Beowulf again and it still stands the test of time as far as story, plot and pacing go. And after viewing the trailer, the movie looks pretty spectacular as well. The state-of-the-art animation looks visually appealing. The actors are top-notch including a very-nude Angelina Jolie and a gruff-looking Anthony Hopkins. And I truly hope that Zemeckis fixed the flat-faced, creepy, no-blink look of the actors in his previous animated movie The Polar Express.

Yet, although the animation looks great, I keep coming back to the same question...

Why animate it?

I’ve always had a problem with movies that, although good ideas, have no business being animated. At the moment, Final Fantasy, Don Bluth's Anastasia and Disney's Pocahontas and Mulan come to mind(although I'm sure I'll think of some more).

Sorry to say, but I think Beowulf falls into this category.

Although I'm going strictly by the trailer and my memory of the story, besides the various Grendel monster attacks and the final battle between Grendel and Beowulf, there seems to be no real reason to animate this film.

I believe they could have easily incorporated Grendel into the flim via CG. And he could have easily been as aesthetically believable as the Cave Troll during the goblin cave attack scene in The Lord of the Rings movie.

I’m no cinematographer, but the action sequences and beautiful landscapes could also be replicated with real life actors and CG added in later. Hell, film it in New Zealand like Jackson did with his trilogy.

From my understanding Zemeckis had all the actors act out their parts in motion-capture suits unlike your basic sit-and-record dialogue of many Pixar movies and TV animated shows. To add to that, all the animated characters look almost exactly like the original actors. WTF?

The budget for this animated film was upwards of $150 million. In comparison, the live-action Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring movie directed by Peter Jackson had a budget of $94 million.

Once again I ask, if they already have great actors acting out the scenes, a pretty-expensive budget and a great script, why doesn't Zemeckis just make it a kick-ass live-action summer popcorn flick?

I have a couple theories.

First, I think Polar Express and Beowulf are glorified ‘test projects’ for Zemeckis' next movie - an animated version of The Christmas Carol.

I've always thought Zemeckis made the movie Death Becomes Her with Goldie Hawn, Bruce Willis and Meryl Streep because he wanted to test new computer animation technology that could seemlessly be molded with new blue-screen technology.

Less than two years later, in 1994, he mastered some of those techniques and used them to perfection in his Academy-award winning movie Forrest Gump. Remember Lt. Dan's legs and all of the shots when Gump is actually part of historic TV footage?

In addition, Speilberg and Dreamworks SKG produce most of Zemeckis' stuff. I could easily see Speilberg giving Zemeckis the go-ahead to test new computer technologies for some of his movies and borrowing some of the best animated ideas for some of his projects (including his upcoming Tin-Tin movie).

My second theory is that perhaps he also wants to simplify the motion-capture technology to make a return to television as he did when he was the producer of HBO's Tales from the Crypt?

Think about a completely animated Tales from the Crypt with today's technology.

I'm not too sure I'm going to use my get-out-of-jail-free-card to run out to the theater and catch this flick. Like I said, I love the look of the animation. But, it seems a bit forced for this type of story.

Who knows? Maybe I'll be eating crow when this flick comes out and everybody shits their pants in the movie theater. I guess we'll see.

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