When it comes down to it, we’re nothing but a bunch of fancy-pants, hairless apes who are easily enthralled by shiny, fluttering things.
And therein lies the saving grace of Beowulf. In IMAX 3D, every scene offers a visual attraction. Don’t misunderstand me, though: some of the attractions come in the form of distractions... but that’s not necessarily to the movie’s detriment. The exercise of watching and studying the movie (not experiencing it… as you would a great work of filmmaking) is what makes the two hours fly by and gives you something to talk about afterwards.
The 3D experience almost lives up to the hype put forth by the movie studios… which is saying quite a lot. When the 3D images first appear, not only will you likely have a “wow!” moment, you might also have the brief moment of panic that I experienced over whether your senses can tolerate two hours of sensory overload without getting dizzy or throwing up. (I’m happy to report that no one–including me–threw up, although I heard some people say that they had to periodically close their eyes to “take a break.”)
Gone are the now-retro blue-and-red-lensed paper glasses. Now we have Big-Bird-sized plastic-framed glasses with almost transparent lenses. (By the time you see the movie two weeks from now, over one-hundred souls will have worn those glasses on their oily, sweaty faces. Enjoy.) The glasses fit comfortably, but leave comically distinctive lines across your forehead and the bridge of your nose that brand you as a 3D-movie-goer for at least thirty minutes afterwards.
Zemeckis and the other producers clearly had 3D on the brain when they were making the movie. In fact, I’m sure plenty of audiences seeing the movie on regular screens will question the necessity of things like a twenty-second-long super-ultra-close-up on a spearhead. Hell, the audience in my theater was questioning it. After a while it’s we get it! It’s in 3D!
That’s not to say the 3D effects aren’t showcased spectacularly in many scenes. They are. But this point does get to the distractions that I mentioned. There’s no losing yourself in Beowulf… you’ll find that watching the movie is an active exercise in which you study the screen, looking for the next piece of visual interest.
And the “visual interest” isn’t just created by the 3D effects. Zemeckis said he wanted this all-CGI film to be as realistic as possible, and he certainly hit the mark… just not consistently. (Hence another distraction.) The textures in the film–including everything from water, to chain mail, to skin, to landscapes–are frequently incredible. So incredible that you find yourself examining mostly-irrelevant details to appreciate their art.
Imagine how jarring it is, then, when the images suddenly don’t quite ring true-to-life. Frequently, this is thanks to the human characters in the film, who often can’t quite shake that soulless, wooden look that some people will remember from the characters in the all-CGI Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within film. When the filmmakers hit the mark, though, you will briefly forget that you’re looking at a computer-generated version of Angelina Jolie. Pretty impressive stuff. But real life… it ain’t.
As a film, Beowulf isn’t bad. It’s just not great. At least if you see it on IMAX 3D (or even non-IMAX digital 3D), you know you’re in for a visual treat. I wouldn’t recommend seeing it in any other format.
UPDATE: I forgot to mention… the Cloverfield trailer is not showing in front of the IMAX version of Beowulf.