Robert Zemeckis' new film Beowulf offers a powerful reminder of how far we've come, and perhaps have yet to go, in the ever-expanding world of special effects. It's a majestic film, absolutely breathtaking to behold, and yet so many people will complain (and in fact already have) because they think the characters' eyes are dead or the rhythms of their movement aren't realistic enough. CGI was in its infancy 20 years ago, and we are now capable of rendering virtually anything on film; meanwhile audiences are so familiar with the process that they are steadily less impressed the more sophisticated these creatures, characters and landscapes become. How cynical have we become that we no longer appreciate works of art, instead search desperately for their flaws?
All of which is why Beowulf is not merely a very good film, but an important one. Not necessarily important in some specific cultural sense, or even perhaps within the timeline of cinema history; but Zemeckis has effectively combined the oldest storytelling form in the English language with the most up-to-date technology possible, in the process creating a singular work of art that reminds us timelessness and modernity are opposite sides of the exact same coin, at least where movies are concerned.
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