On Beowulf and Yoga

After last Friday’s discussion of MoCap, The Uncanny Valley, and 3D filmmaking, I thought it was worth a follow up to discuss my impressions of “Beowulf,” as I saw it in 3D later that very day.

Oh, and I’m going to talk about Yoga, too.

First, Beowulf. Beowulf will go down in history as a film unlike most, in that I loved it and despised it at the same time. I want to go see it again, and I never, ever want to see it again. It’s been a long while since I’ve been so totally transfixed, awed, and downright stupified by the immersion experience of a film… oh, and also hated it.

The look of this movie is done a total injustice by it’s previews, which struck me as only moderately interesting. Visually, the only word that describes Beowulf is “Stunning.” I was wishing they would rewind the opening animated logos for the production companies before the thing even started.

The opening scene is a celebration in the mead hall of King Hroogar, played by Anthony Hopkins. I found myself dashing around the screen, trying to take it all in. The depth of field created by the 3D presentation means that a virtual “prop” like a goblet can be seen in utmost clarity as it reflects the light of a virtual fire roasting a virtual pig.

To get right to one of the questions we posed last Friday, which is, “Do the MoCap characters look better then they did in The Polar Express or Final Fantasy,” and the answer for me is yes and no. For some reason, elderly characters looked “right” to me. Perhaps its the flaws in the skin that make it so.

Anthony Hopkins’ capture is one of the marvels of the film, for my money, leading me to ask the question that Jeremy can perhaps answer, which is, how much, in the brave new world of MoCap, does a great actor influence the final, rendered and realized portrayal? Is Anthony Hopkins just that much more skilled then Ray Winstone, or Robin Wright Penn, that his facial muscles just give more interesting information to the computer?

So, have I painted a picture for you? Remember the first time you saw, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, or Jurassic Park, or more recently The Return of the King, and you just thought to yourself, “I’ve witnessed something wholly new and groudbreaking?” It’s like that.

So why’d I hate it? Well… first of all, Beowulf is one of the most relentlessly violent, downbeat, depressing films I’ve seen a a long while. The PG-13 rating is totally disingenuous. If this film had been live action, it would have been rated a hard R for violence. Limbs ripped, eyes gouged, chests opened, organs cut out, all in the aforementioned crystalline clarity of digitally projected 3D.

But oh no… it’s not just the gore. It’s just… sad. George McFly’s Grendel is awful to behold, in every way. The cast-off bastard son of a demon witch and a drunkard king, murderer and eventual victim of mutilation and violence. Grendel’s Mother is momentarily sympathetic in her grief over her freshly dead spawn, until that is she gets a whiff of Beowulf’s man-scent or some such thing and then I guess she’s cool… or something. We’re subjected to Beowulf himself, in all his masculine emo discontent.

Bleh!

This film is made for teenage boys, and lowbrow teenage boys at that. Calling it an animated film for adults is a mistake, as butt, dick, boob, and even midget jokes are present in spades. Hey look! Beowulf is naked, and a sword is perfectly placed to cover his junk! Get it? Here it is again!!! GET IT?!?!?!?!? DO YOU EFFING GET IT?!?!!?

Yes. I get it.

Our “Hero” is a one dimensional warrior in a three dimensional world. He’s all balls and no brain, and he pays the price. I cared not what happened to him. In fact, the only character I actually cared about was his sidekick, Wiglaf, played by the wonderful Brendon Gleeson. However, the film is such that, quite literally in the final frame, we are robbed of something resembling a completed story arc for his character.

Even the 3D effects danced on the edge of immaturity.  For every shot that could be described as lyrical, there was a shot that screamed, “Hey!  Look at me!  I’m in 3D!”  Hey, filmmakers!  No more spears in the face, right?

Then there are these two really strange bits of dialog dealing with the spread of Christianity through Europe that left me sort of scratching my head. Odd Line #1 – John Malkovich’s character to Anthony Hopkins early in the film, referring to the priests praying to Odin in the wake of Grendel’s attack:

“Shall we also pray to the new God of the Rome, The Christ?” Interesting, I thought.

Fast forward to the 2nd act of the story, set 20 years later, and outta nowhere comes Odd Line #2 – Beowulf to Brenden Gleeson’s character as a band of marauders attempt to invade Beowulf’s kingdom, something like:

“No heros left in the world, the Christ God has killed them all.”

Huh? What? Is there something you’d like to share with the rest of us, Amazing Larry? Aside: if anyone outside of my immediate family gets that obscure dialog reference, you get a gold star.

Beowulf will not be a runaway hit, because Robert Zemeckis is a boy, and he had new toys, and boys with new toys (even boys who are brilliant filmmakers) do not always the wisest decisions make.

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For some reason, this exercise in masculine excess crossed paths with another train of thought in my head, which is that of Yoga, and they both happened to fall on the same weekend.

I’ve been stagnant in my weight loss for weeks. It’s been terribly frustrating. I up my running. No change. My knees ache and pop. No change. 7 miles. Yes, for those of you who knew me as a cheeseburger snarfing lard-ass, 7 miles. No change.

ARGH!

In desperation, Friday morning I followed Erica to the Yoga class at our local gym. I had tried Yoga before in a class setting a few months ago, and I made it about 10 minutes before I bailed. Feeling like a clumsy pig on ice is not my idea of weight-loss recreation. This time, I was desperate. I knew that I simply was not going to finish losing this weight the same way I started, and I was determined to see it through. I stuffed the mental protests from my conservative evangelical upbringing, took off my shoes, aligned my chakras, and went for it.

I loved it. By the end of the hour, I could feel every muscle in my body. The next morning, I REALLY felt every muscle in my body. They felt elongated. I felt as if I had been tested, and passed, albeit with a fair amount of sweating and near-falling. For anyone who thinks that Yoga is for hippies and soccer moms, I’d like to challenge you hold a Warrior 2 pose (considered basic, FYI) for 30 seconds and see how macho you feel.

Yesterday, Monday, I went again, by myself. This time, I wore longer shorts and a looser shirt so that I wouldn’t worry about revealing my junk to the instructor. (I didn’t have a conveniently placed CG sword handy, you see.) I came earlier, so that I could stretch my muscles instead of leaping right in like I had before.

I sat on my little mat for 5 minutes listening to the ludicrous plinky-plunky music and relaxed and prayed. It was the first time in awhile that I had taken 5 minutes to just pray when I wasn’t in immediate need of something, I’m ashamed to say. I think I had forgotten how powerful Jesus is, because He came to meet me in the group classroom at 24 Hour Fitness in Thousand Oaks. He’s cool like that.

Somewhere in between my prayer and the beginning of the class, two young college-aged Beowulfs walked in the room, swords a-clanging, if you know what I mean. They had clearly come upstairs after spending some time lifting weights and ravishing maidens. Their gym shoes squeaked in the erstwhile quiet, and their “Whispers” were audible to all. One of them was clearly dragging the other, who was mocking the whole endeavor. “It’s not as easy as you think…” was the last thing I heard before the instructor started talking to us about finding our center and becoming one with the earth.

“This is going to be awesome,” I thought to myself.

Sure enough, even as I experienced a phenomenal growth from one session to the next in terms of balance and flexibility, our young Beowulfs grunted, strained, squeaked, and cursed their way through the session. I think the rest of us were blessed with a delightful mixture of pity and smugness. No one grew discernibly agitated at them for their disruption, even though the instructor had to spend a majority of her time correcting their poses so they didn’t tear a hamstring. I think they were actually trying, which is always an endearing quality.

They made me feel like I was Madonna. I was centered over the earth. I was balanced in my space., or some crap like that.

Yoga is teaching me something, but I don’t know what. I don’t care that the teacher is a new age, post-modern, post-Oprah, fortune-cookie philosopher. I don’t care. Her spine is straight and she has an appropriate amount of body fat. She can touch her toes.

My spine is still bent at the top from all those years of carrying around a hundred extra pounds. I can see my toes now, but I can’t touch them. My right shoulder is slightly higher than my left. I’m a mess.

I’m reversing two decades of poor physical decisions, and I don’t care that a Hindu meditation art is going to play a part in that process. Jesus is cool like that. When she says find your “self,” I think, “Find who God made you to be.” When she does the relaxation thing at the end and gives a quasi-space-age-sermonette about not letting your family negatively impact your energy over the holiday season, I think, “Honor Thy Father and Mother,” and, “Husbands should love their wives as they love their own bodies.” When she starts talking about modified plank pose, I think to myself, “Oh, the burning!”

You get the idea.

Dear readers, I don’t really have a way to link these experiences together for you in anything resembling a coherent thought, but they’re all connected in some sort of ironic, existential, spiritual cluster – eff.

9 thoughts on “On Beowulf and Yoga

  1. cisco

    I really appreciate your honesty and openness. I think so many people are afraid of yoga and miss out on it´s benefits. On another note have you heard how Jon Wallace recovery has been? I read an old entry from 2006 and I was concerned. I am a bit out of the loop and the country as I live in Spain. all the best……cisco

  2. Gretchen

    Chad- I did prenatal yoga with both pregnancies and it rocked and kicked my butt all at the same time. Yes, Mike teased and was convinced I was turning our babies into Hindus, but it stretched all the right areas and helped with the whole “another person has taken over my body” thing. I think I’ll try to take it up again. Yoga that is.

  3. Stick

    So, I’m going down to Sacramento with my 16 year old nephew in a couple hours to see Beowulf on an IMAX screen.

    Either one of us should be able to give you the review from a 16 year old’s perspective.

  4. Daniel Semsen

    Yeah Chad–don’t be apologizin’ in your blogs to us readers…we all DIG it when you write…

    Not gonna see Beowolf…but I thought Enchanted rocked. (Can I get a what-what? Anyone?)

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