My name is Charlie, but if your looking for my work, I go by C. E. Dorsett. I write scifi, fantasy, and a touch of horror. I like to play with gothic, steampunk, decopunk, epic fantasy, and wuxia. I love to tell stories and talk about books, movies, series, and music.
Beowulf: The Death of a Hero
It is hard for me to write out my thought on the new animated film, Beowulf, written by Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary. It is loosely based on the epic poem of English legend. Directed by Robert Zemeckis (Polar Express), the movie features an all star cast:
- Ray Winstone (The Chronicles of Narnia) as Beowulf
- Anthony Hopkins (Dracula) as Hrothgar
- Robin Wright Penn (Princess Bride) as Queen Wealtheow
- Dominic Keating (Star Trek Enterprise) as old Cane
- Alison Lohman (Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind) as Ursula
- John Malkovich (The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) as Unferth
- Crispin Glover (Back to the Future) as Grendel
- Brendan Gleeson (Mad-eye Moody from the Harry Potter Films) as Wiglaf
- Angelina Jolie (Tomb Raider) as Grendel's Mother
Just to name a few. The movie was made with the same motion capture tech that Polar Express was. I suppose I have to stop stalling now.
It was a great film overall, but there are many things that bothered me, but before I delve into them too much, I want to lay a foundation from which to build.
Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary did not write a film adaptation of the epic poem, they reimagined the story. They tried to explain Grendel and his mother's motivations. They are not mere monsters. Grendel is driven mad by the resonating cacophony from Hrothgar's mead hall, attacking the village to silence them. Beowulf is motivated by his desire for glory. In their retelling, the story is no longer a story about sacrifice and glory. This new film version is the a deconstruction of the hero.
Like the Thirteenth Warrior (another retelling of Beowulf), the new story is great on its own, even though it pales in comparison with the original. I thoroughly enjoyed the film, but I have a few things against it.
The Animation Quality
The film strived for an ultra-realism that it simply cannot deliver. While the heights the film reaches are spectacular, it is unable to maintain them for any prolonged period. At times, the film has mismatched levels of quality within the same frame. For example, in the scene between Beowulf and Grendel's Mother, Beowulf is stunningly realistic while Grendel's Mother looks like an amazingly sexy character from Shrek.
At times, the quirks in the animation became distracting. Every time they were on a horse, the animation devolved into a jerky cartoonish caricature of a person riding a horse. I found the inconsistencies to be distracting at times. They often took me out of the story and reminded me that I was watching a movie.
I too found the animation to be distracting, mainly the eyes. They were trying for a more realistic feel in the eyes of the characters and at times I thought they were bang on, but most of the time everyone had a lazy eye. It distracted from the story. Consistency is the key for best animation. As a fan I don't mind cartoonish animation because if it is a good story I will get lost in the story but if the quality fluctuates throughout the movie then I get pulled out of the experience.
Postmodern Deconstruction of the Hero
In this retelling, Beowulf is not a hero. He is not a blessing to his people, or a the glory of his race. He is a frail flawed non-hero whose own lust and desire nearly destroys his people. Personally, I am getting sick of these postmodern retellings of classic stories to rob them of their heroic virtue.
I might be alone in this, but I like my heroes to be heroic. About two-thirds of the way into the flick, I sort of checked out. The story had rung hollow for me.
At first I was very excited to see Beowulf acting heroic but by the end I felt robbed. Yes people have faults and flaws but why is it so hard today to just have a hero. Someone who is brave and strong, who faces the enemy and stands up for what is right without having to sellout. I felt dirty in the end. It was like watching the tale of the hippy generation all over again. I think another reason why the plight of the hero didn't sit well with me is that I have to live in the real world where those in authority keeps repeating the sins of their past passing down the problems from one generation to another and selling out to the devil for a period of peace. It makes me angry to see a hero act in a similar manner.
My last complaint is that the story bowed heavily to the established conventions for a feature film, which made parts of the film cliche and the end uselessly dramatic. From the moment they first showed the drinking horn, I knew how the film would end. The end lingered for too long so it could hit the expected disaster-release-disaster-release-disaster-release-black moment-release format that all of the screenplay books recommend.
Beowulf is a challenged and flawed film that meanders about never really finding its narrative or visual voice, but having said that, it is still a film that deserves to be seen, but probably not owned. I recommend that you pop this one onto your Netflix list and watch it when it comes out on DVD.
Hunting New Fantasy
October is coming, and it is nearly time for me write another novel. After sifting through all the stories in my back file, I have decided to go forward with an Urban Fantasy/Steampunk setting that takes place on earth in the present day. I have already started building maps and creating characters to fill out the world of Blackwood Abbey, but one thing eludes me: THE PLOT.
Don't get me wrong, I have hundreds of ideas for a story, but I think they are all quite mundane, run of the mill Urban Fantasy or Steampunk stories. I really want to do something different, or at the very least, unexpected.
When I wrote Liquid Sky, the idea of a Wuxia (martial arts fantasy) set within a Space Opera really excited me. I am looking for a similar cross-genre or extra-genre plot to bring something fresh and new to a style that I love.
(from my Amazon.com Blog)
The Magic is Why I Write
The best thing about writing fiction is that moment where the story catches fire and comes to life on the page, and suddenly it all makes sense and you know what it's about and why you're doing it and what these people are saying and doing, and you get to feel like both the creator and the audience. Everything is suddenly both obvious and surprising ("but of course that's why he was doing that, and that means that...") and it's magic and wonderful and strange (Neil Gaiman's Journal).
Since I have been struggling with a very uncooperative story that hooked me but refused to reveal to me any of its secrets, it used Neil's epiphany as inspiration. I know that moment, but it often hard to get to. I struggled on. I begged each character to reveal something to me about themselves. I wandered through the lonely wastes of Abbey grounds, knowing full well that everything that lived there was hiding from me. Every now and then something would move out of the corner of my eye, but it was gone before I could see what it was.
Then yesterday at about this time one of my characters sat next to me and opened up about is life:
drinking a yummy Pinot grigio, listening to Cradle of Filth, and writing a bio for a vampire. Life is good right now :) (my twitter)
I don't know if it was the research, the Pinot grigio, the music or what it was, but for the first time on Blackwood Abbey, I had that feeling, it made sense. Not all of it, but I could see the world a little clearer. We walked together, this vampire and I for most of the night. He told me his life story, and in so doing, shared with me the world that he lives in.
Pessimism is strong in me, so I did not accept this as a break through. I assumed that the adrenalin from the Tornado warning had mixed with the wine in some unreplicatable convergence, but I was wrong. Today, three more denizens of the Abbey have come to me to share their stories. I can see the world, and the story clearly. I hope the others will come to me tomorrow.
I have felt the magic Neil captured so well. I can only hope that my talents are up to par to wield and maintain the magic that has begun to flow through me.
(from my Amazon Connect Blog)