2007-12-21 / Columnists


'Beowulf'' - The End Of Acting
Review By Robert Snyder

My mother once told me that animals don't go to heaven. Why? Because animals, she said, do not have souls. An upsetting thought to a child.

This was before computer generated imaging (CGI), where animals have more "soulful" eyes than do humans (check out Puss 'in' Boots in "Shrek"). And eyes, it's said, are "windows to the soul."

Now comes "Beowulf" with its stateof the-art "performance capture" technology. Such top-notch thespians as Anthony Hopkins, John Malkovich and Angelina Jolie are baring their bodies, minds and souls to the all-powerful computer for transformation into puppet versions of their former selves. The big revelation here is that the computer technophiles are getting it down. The acting, along with the action, is darn good. As Danish King Hrothgar, Hopkins' puppet has its moments of tragic intensity, worthy of Shakespeare. Malkovich's computerized self shows spite and remorse with Julliard School sophistication. As for Jolie, whose naked body never looked better, she has eyes that outdo Puss 'n' Boots and undo Ray Winstone's macho-man, animated, mannequin Beowulf.

In IMAX 3-D, director Robert Zemeckis has upgraded the ancient myth of pre-Christian Vikings battling monster Grendel (Crispin Glover), his mother (Jolie) and a fire-breathing dragon, who all tend to upset the warriors' ongoing orgies. With its abundance of nudity and Freudian-Oedipal underpinnings, "Beowulf" is not really for kids, despite its PG-13 rating (go figure). The action is unrelenting and super-duper, as 3-D objects fly over the front rows of the theater.

But, it is the dramatic acting that is scarier than the monsters. Are "performance capture" puppets going to be eligible for Oscars or SAG cards?

Is this the end of film actors in human bodies? While the medium is not completely perfected (Robin Wright Penn's Queen Wealthow has dead eyes), it is well on its way to Sherman's path of destruction, for the movie acting profession as we once knew it.

My mother was wrong. Animals do have souls. Their souls are created by computers, as they are for humans.

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