Sunday, December 23, 2007

Beowulf - John's review

We had a child-free day on Saturday so Bronwyn and I headed off to check out the new IMAX 3D cinema playing "Beowulf".

Bronwyn and I usually agree on movies, often both liking movies that have had negative reviews. eg We both liked "Troy". But not this time. Bron (see below) feels that the Beowulf CGI approach did not work for her. I thought Beowulf was excellent, with the bonus of easily being the most successful and effective 3D feature movie I have ever seen. I am however a techie who appreciates the cutting-edge work these animators are doing and I may be forgiving a few things. The shyness in showing nudity looks foolish at times but that is probably some producer's decision to make more money by avoiding a restricted certificate. IMHO wrong call, this looks to me like an R13 movie awkwardly trying to change gear down to M, but it's a minor point.

On to my appreciation of what is good here. Top marks to the writers for tying the disconnected events of the ancient story together with a new story arc of cause and effect while still staying true to the distinctive elements of the original. The ancient storyline, of the surprising way to defeat the monster Grendel, is well adapted here. Great characterisation, character design and 3D world design. The artists make imaginative use of their medium to bring their ancient Viking world to vivid life.

Some favourite scenes:
Near the beginning where we join Beowulf and his thanes as they ride a North Sea storm on their Viking longboat.
Near the end there is a magic moment where there is a performance in honour of Beowulf and for a few seconds the bard slips into the anglo-saxon language of the original epic.

Recommendation: If you have any interest in CGI 3D art then don't burden yourself with ice-creams etc cos you don't want any distraction from the amazing immersive experience of the opening scenes.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Beowulf - Bronwyn's review

Keep the CGI for Shrek and Toy Story

I can’t imagine computer animation ever working for an adult movie, or at least not one that is meant to be serious and pack a metaphorical punch. I’m prepared to be proven wrong, but alas I don’t think Beowulf is the movie to do it. To put it plainly I found this movie boring.

There’s plenty of action, lots of gee whiz effects, violence, lots of nudity, but it was dull. The only reason I can think of is that the characters, albeit played by mostly quite recognizable and extremely A list actors, were just not interesting. A very fine performance just cannot seem to translate to the screen via the graphics program. It just isn’t the same.

The story was not one I was familiar with, despite hearing about it second or third hand for years. I found the first third particularly almost impossible to watch because a) it was brutal and horrifying beyond belief (do not take your children to this movie) and b) because not only was I watching it in 3D but the camera was spinning around so fast you couldn’t focus on anything.

OK – that all sounds pretty bad. I would say that if it had been live action (obviously some of the effects had to be CGI) and the camera had stayed put a bit more it would at least have been watchable. And it did improve. After Beowulf dealt with the deeply disturbing Grendel (some things are just too creepy for movies) the soulless violence and bleakness eased. Also I had begun to sympathise with Beowulf and his queen, but it took three-quarters of the movie to get to that point. The second monster, the dragon, well he was just plain cool. He still ate people, but it was far less disturbing (these things are totally relative).

John asked me if I would like my book "Askar" ( made into a CGI movie. The answer is no. If you’re making a human drama, it needs to have humans in it.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Askar - joys of self publishing

Bronwyn Calder has finally completed writing her epic fantasy novel "Askar" after 20 years working on it. We have been developing a film script version and my students have been creating Askar-themed internet games. What this is leading up to is a new media publishing project.
This gets us into self-publishing which is quite a learning adventure. We are publishing with "" which our writing friends like and recommend - thanks Colin and Joss - see it at..
No e-book version yet. Lots of interesting pros and cons there and a lot of discussion going on amongst us here. A special point here is that "Askar" is big, 464 pages in its Lulu version. Print-on-demand is very cost-dependent on the number of pages so "Askar" becomes relatively expensive as a physical paper book which helps make the case for the e-book. We will probably put up a separate e-book version in a few days. The font/page size for the printed book does not do screen reading well for us, and IMHO an e-book also needs quite different wording for its copyright statement.
We could have reduced the cost a little by going for a smaller font = Garamond 11pt rather than the Garamond 12pt we ended up using. Various people drafted in for their opinion all said the bigger font was worth it.

We needed some copies quickly and with Christmas coming we could not get a print job done in time so we are trying home-printing some examples and we have got as far as the first 4 prototypes. In brief, we were able to buy A5 paper and our modest Brother DCP 115 C home inkjet printer is doing the heavy-duty duplex page-printing job reliably and economically. We can get the covers printed on A3 card at reasonable cost by a copy centre. The fun and games is in do-it-yourself paperback glue binding and we have been trying various kinds of glue. "PVA" and "Contact Adhesive(ADOS F2)" both worked with F2 being a quick process, but the spine comes out rather flexible and so wear-creases appear on it with normal use. The latest experiment with "Gorilla Glue" is looking like the best so far. We also need to try hot glue.