Managing one’s expectations for Robert Zemeckis’s performance capture rendition of Beowulf is easy: just recall the front-to-back awfulness of The Polar Express! That film was Zemeckis at his autopilot worst. Though a technical marvel and occasionally thrilling amusement park ride if viewed in IMAX 3-D (pity the suckers who suffered through it in 2-D), The Polar Express was an inert piece of holiday uplift, proving once again that Zemeckis is either too cynical or too devoid of humanity to do straight-faced, middle-of-the-road sentimentality. Had it set the box office ablaze, it’s entirely possible we’d be much more forgiving of the moronically subtext-free Forrest Gump (and I maintain it’s a mistake to dig for any kind of thematic significance in that sedulously surface Best Picture winner).
If the co-scenarist/director of I Wanna Hold Your Hand, Used Cars and Back to the Future – which buried its feel-good impulses in Oedipal angst and 1950s-enabled Reagan-era satire – is going to come at anything straight-faced, it had better be heady science fiction* or big, brawny adventure. That’s why Zemeckis applying his performance capture experimentation to the medieval epic poem, Beowulf, is exciting (not as exciting as re-teaming with Bob Gale for a rowdy black comedy, but that ship done sailed and sunk). As even the abhorrent Polar Express proved, Zemeckis has lost nothing visually; he can still… pre-vis an action sequence with the best of ‘em**. Better to have a master like Zemeckis doing this stuff than, say, Shawn Levy.
Speaking of Levy, his Satanic 2006 profit-machine Night at the Museum boasted a thoroughly unmemorable Alan Silvestri score. For Silvestri, the once great composer of classic Zemeckis-movie themes, it was just the latest in a long line of paycheck gigs. So if any film is going to rouse the maestro out of his motif-recycling stupor, why not Beowulf? And if great adventure films almost always feature great scores, give a listen to the below video of Silvestri previewing his Beowulf music with the RTVE Symphony and tell me your anticipation for this film didn’t just spike.
Devin and I will be getting a twenty-minute taste of Beowulf at Comic Con in a couple of weeks. I was already excited. Now… I’m exciteder!
*Unpopular defense of Contact tabled for a later date.
**Presumably popular lament that our best large-scale filmmakers have retreated to green-screens and 1’s-and-0’s also tabled.