VXWorld: Crossing the Uncanny Valley – on the current state of the art of photorealistic computer animation, from Final Fantasy through Polar Express to Pirates of the Caribbean and Beowulf. As pointed out, one reason that Davy Jones worked so well is that he doesn’t look human. (via Neil Gaiman)

Firefox Floppy Disks – remember when software came on 3½-inch floppy disks? Or 5¼″? Just for fun, someone split the Firefox installer across 5 disks, complete with appropriate labels… and even took it a step farther

The Village, a disturbingly-named apartment complex across from the Irvine Spectrum shopping center, has been advertising in the nearby area for a couple of years using the slogan, “A new meaning for…” with various images and phrases. For a while, the following photo and caption seemed to be everywhere:

Blonde woman lifting her head out of a swimming pool, giving a "come hither" look.
A New Meaning For Heated Pool

A not-terribly-subtle example of the advertising maxim, “sex sells.” Somewhere along the line I decided she looked like Rebecca Romijn, and dubbed her Mystique.

Eventually I realized what the photo reminded me of: the promotional images for the movie Wild Things:

Neve Campbell and Denise Richards lifting their heads out of a swimming pool.

The apartments have removed the image from their website (you can still find it on the Internet Archive), but it’s still all over the shopping center kiosks. So while watching Beowulf there, it seemed somehow appropriate when Grendel’s mother struck the same pose:

Grendel’s mother (digital Angelina Jolie) lifting her head out of a pool

Beowulf carries a torchWent out and saw Beowulf yesterday. The IMAX 3D* showing was packed.

The computer animation managed to avoid the uncanny valley most of the time. The previews at Comic-Con looked very strange, but either the presentation helped immensely, or they’ve been refining it since they put those clips together. Movements are dead-on (it’s all motion-capture) and even facial expressions have gotten really impressive. (There’s a sequence at the end which is entirely two characters looking at each other, and it’s all expressions). And when it did slip into characters not quite looking human, the story was usually engaging enough to keep it from being too distracting.

They clearly had a 3D presentation in mind when blocking out shots, because they took great delight in tossing spears, arrows, and the occasional hapless Dane at the audience.

I found myself comparing it to Lord of the Rings in a few places, which isn’t surprising, since Tolkien was quite familiar with Beowulf. I’m pretty sure the Denmark of this period is the source culture for the Rohirrim, as well (both in the books and in the Peter Jackson films), so it’s appropriate that Heorot gives off a vibe of Edoras gone horribly wrong.

The monsters are impressive. Grendel is about as disgusting as can be, his mother literally radiant, and the dragon is a majestic gold, looking more like raw metal than scales. The designs of Grendel and the dragon are used well to reflect the contrast between Hrothgar and Beowulf: one decadent and slimy, one still heroic even in his old age. The initial attack by Grendel gets confusing pretty quickly, and the later confrontation devolves a bit into virtual wire-fu, but the battle with the dragon is suitably sweeping (though I had a few problems with the dragon’s heart).

Cardboard IMAX Shield (Think Big!)

I liked that they used Old English in a few places (Grendel’s dialog, and later, the play in which actors recount the tale of Beowulf’s encounter with Grendel), though I’m not familiar enough** with the original to know whether they kept lines verbatim.

Someone at the theater had made a whole bunch of these cardboard shields and set them along the hallway to the IMAX theater.

Edit: I did finally see 300 last month. I liked Beowulf better. I think the main thing is that 300 was positioned as a historical epic, so when it went over the top (“This is SPARTAAAAA!!!!!”) it seemed really over the top, while Beowulf is set in the epic fantasy mode: monsters, giant sea serpents, demons, dragons, etc., and the movie is in part about the nature of heroic tales and how they get embellished over time. So when the hero splits a sea serpent’s neck all the way down with his sword while falling, or boasts that “I am BEOWULF!!!” it fits.

*The theater gives what can only be described as a sales pitch for how great the IMAX presentation is going to be, which is kind of strange since by the time they give it, you’ve already bought your tickets and sat down inside. It reminded me of the Weird Al song, “Frank’s 2000″ TV” (though if my calculations are right, it’s only 1077 inches) and when they started bragging talking about how many thousands of watts of sound they had, we both started giggling.

**I took a class on Old English in college, which focused on vocabulary and shorter works. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to take the second quarter, which was entirely Beowulf. I did eventually pick up a book that presents the original and translation side-by-side, but I have to admit I haven’t gotten around to reading it.

Some interesting/odd searches that have landed people on this site lately:

  • “beowulf godzilla” — I still get a kick out of the fact that a Beowulf movie opened at #1. This landed, appropriately enough, on “Beowulf vs. Godsylla”, Tom Weller’s parody from the (sadly out of print) Cvltvre Made Stvpid. The fake-old-English parody is so good that it gets used in college courses on Old English. As my professor pointed out, the short poem uses the proper four-stress alliterative form, and even (mis)uses classic phrases like ice-cold.
  • “scary pitchers” is still going strong, though these days it hits a previous strange-search post rather than the original pun.
  • Flash #219 Cover“wonder woman tied up,” “wonder woman hentai,” “wonder woman humiliated,” “wonder woman captured” etc. have been showing up with disturbing frequency since I posted Victimized Hero. Of course, that’s mostly about the Flash, but the cover with the Flash and Wonder Woman tied up (immortalized in San Diego as the “Wonder Woman/Flash bondage poster” above the DC booth) has somehow ended up in the first two pages of image searches on Google. Admittedly, WW has a long history of bondage subtext, but it’s still kind of disturbing. Especially when it leads to…
  • “cheerleader tied up” — We’ve been getting a lot of hits from searches for Claire Bennet lately, mostly hitting the spot the cheerleader post. This seems to have started crossing over with the WW trends, along with people searching for “clare bennett naked”.
  • “JMS Babylong 5 arc” — honest, it wasn’t that long! Okay, the first half of Season 5 may have seemed like it…
  • “My child has more honor than your child” — somehow our crappy little cell-phone picture of this Klingon bumper sticker has become #1 on a Google search for the phrase.
  • “ANITA COMIC” — I need one too. If you have one of these books and are willing to sell, please let me know! (I assume this person was looking for info on the Anita Blake comic books.)
  • We’re seeing lots of phrases that are clearly copied out of advance fee fraud messages. The comment thread on my fake UK artists post has turned into an informal clearing-house of people posting their experiences with this type of scam.
  • “cheese” — I’m a bit confused by this one, but it seems to have hit the cheese information center.
  • “need coffee” — yeah, it’s getting kind of late. Though unless you’re planning to order coffee beans or grounds for future use, I’d recommend stepping away from the computer and turning on your coffee maker. Or walking across the street to the nearest Starbucks. (You know you need coffee when…)