Beowulf (Feature Article)
Faster than a sea monster! Stronger than a demon! More powerful than a dragon! It’s… Beowulf, a medieval Geatish warrior willing to take on any challenge in order to make a name for himself … In the darkest of nights a strong, white man persists with determination, aggression and a yearning for adventure and pride as he soars through a dangerous landscape with his crew of gutsy comrades who loyally accompany their leader on his quest. The hero enters the foreign land and instantly astounds the people with his level of confidence.
His stories tell a tale of nerve and valour, his expression and his stature demonstrate his determination and persistence, his actions through the journey reveal his nature of courage and bravery, and in the end his quest to save the people ends with the ultimate sacrifice; the man is simply invincible. This, undoubtedly, is similar to the storyline of the popular blockbuster “Beowulf,” where the hero Beowulf, accompanied with his companions, is called to duty to rid a kingdom of an indestructible monster and to quench his thirst for pride.
Heroes scattered throughout the history of traditional bedtime stories, electrifying poems or action blockbusters all portray similar aspects of a stereotypical hero in which his or her character, from the position of the viewer is cemented by their journey. Beowulf can be easily distinguished as a tragic hero; a hero that is flawed and is brought to death by the inner demon caused by that flaw. Beowulf’s major flaw being his large ego which thrives from excessive pride, this is constantly recognisable throughout the film as he has a very strong need for recognition, also greed and lust to some extent.
Beowulf eventually recognises his flaws as he states to his queen, “Keep a memory of me, not as a king or a hero; but as a man: fallible and flawed. ” Audiences have always come to enjoy these spectacular superheroes that possess unrealistic superhuman powers and have personalities that reflect how a true man should act. These types of heroes are seen in many folklore or older ‘traditional’ films. Most of the traditional heroes, such as Superman, Thor and Beowulf, storyline follow a similar plot and represent extraordinary people with inhuman qualities that kick the bad guy’s ass every time in the most awesome way possible.
Yet the makers of “Beowulf” almost overkill the faction of the traditional hero as the character Beowulf is deliberately exaggerated to emphasise the stereotypical butt whooping and good looking man that represent the classic hero. These ideas are certainly present in the fight scenes throughout the film where it is the indestructible monster versus Beowulf to which no one’s surprise wins the battle. These outstanding battle scenes are credited to the amazing motion capture technology that was used to produce such an exciting story. Beowulf” is animated using special motion capture techniques, known as ‘performance capture’ were actors wear a specially-made lycra suit with digital sensors on their face, which capture facial expression, and body, capturing general movements. The actors then play out the scenes in an area known as ‘The Volume’ which has 224 infa-red Motion Capture Cameras aligned on the walls. Essentially this new technology is the making of digital puppetry as the actor’s movements and actions recorded by a computer which can tamper and adjust scenes to further exaggerate the films scenes.
This specialised filming technique allows the producers to further emphasise and enhance the character of Beowulf as scenes that are impossible becomes the possible with the help of a virtual computer which electronically enhance Beowulf’s inhuman capabilities such as the scenes in which Beowulf erupts from a sea monster eyeball or how he slays the mighty dragon. This technology allows the viewer to experience a better perspective on the hero’s journey.
In his book, “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”, Joseph Campbell, through studying story elements that were common to all the great stories across cultures and generations, identified a pattern of narrative which essentially outlines and identifies the steps of the hero’s quest. It describes the typical adventure of the archetype known as ‘The Hero’ and is outlined into twelve stages. Vogler’s twelve stages of the hero’s journey: 1. The Ordinary World; where we meet the Hero in his comfort zone. 2. The Call to Adventure; where the hero is invited upon his quest. 3. Refusal of the Call; the Hero is reluctant to take up the challenge. . Meeting the Mentor; the hero receives help from someone who has been where he is going. 5. Crossing the Threshold; there is no going back once the Hero has committed himself to the quest. 6. Tests, Allies, Enemies; over a series of challenges, we find out who is with our Hero and who is against. 7. Approaching the Cave; the Hero is drawn into a place where he faces his greatest fears and dangers. 8. The Ordeal; facing his deadliest challenge, the Hero triumphs over his near (or literal) death. 9. Reward; the deed is done, the enemy is conquered and the world is set to rights. 0. The Road Back; the way has been opened for the Hero to return back to his comfort zone … but not yet. 11. Resurrection; having suffered enormous challenges, the Hero is given new life and energy. 12. Return with the Elixir; the Hero can now return home with his prize. The audience leaves satisfied. Waves crashing against the boat and men chanting, travelling to another nation, is the first time that we recognise Beowulf within his ‘Ordinary World’ as he is responds to ‘The Call to Adventure’ in ridding another kingdom of an unstoppable monster and to make a name for himself.
Although Beowulf is too egotistic and too confident to ‘Refuse the Call’ others such as Hrothgar’s advisor, Unferth, doubts Beowulf’s ability and attempts to shame him in front of the people. Hrothgar simply acts like Beowulf’s ‘Mentor’ as he is old and is unable to protect his kingdom yet he offers Beowulf insight into the issue. Beowulf ‘Crosses the Threshold’ as he lays in the mead hall waiting for Grendel. Grendel, his ‘enemy’, is defeated and Unferth, a new ‘ally’, instantly respects Beowulf which is seen when he gives Beowulf his personal sword to face his biggest ‘test’ yet, Grendel’s mother.
After ‘Approaching the Cave’ to face this new ‘Ordeal’ Beowulf is introduced to Grendel’s Mother who seduces him with her “beauty” and “fine promises”. Beowulf returns back with his ‘Reward’ which is pride as the kingdom recognises his greatness for he has defeated both monsters. This however is a lie as he showed weakness when faced with Grendel’s mother. ‘The Road Back’ stage resembles Beowulf’s kingship, this is his comfort zone that he desired from a kid. Beowulf, although very egotistic, admits that he had shown weakness when faced with beauty and promises, this is his “Resurrection” it gives him new life and energy to defeat the dragon.
Finally Beowulf overcomes his last obstacle yet, and like most traditional hero’s, pays the ultimate sacrifice; he is at peace with his flaws, he essentially has “Returned with the Elixir” and his “song will be sung forever. ” Director of “Beowulf”, Robert Zemeckis, has utilised the ’12 stages of the hero’ to create a stereotypical and mainstream traditional hero that is the most dangerous, kick-ass, pride seeking hero in folklore history. The audience can again excite over a film with another brave hearted, dragon slaying hero with an awesome storyline that leaves the people wanting more.