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Grendel's Mother

by Artemis

I'm not knocking Robin Wright, who will forever be the beauteous Buttercup, but all told I'd say Beowulf chose the wrong girl. Sure Grendel's mom periodically turned into a dinosaurian water demon, and she and her kids tended to murder people a lot, but c'mon, they had to live in a cave in a swamp - you try that and see what it does to your disposition. Whereas if Beowulf had married the girl, rather than knocking her up and doing a runner, he'd have a queen who was utter dynamite in the sack, and an heir to the throne who looked like an Adonis made of gold. Plus, who's going to mess with Geatland when their future king can turn into a nigh-invincible fire-breathing dragon? Nobody, that's who. They'd be ruling the world by now, instead of being just a footnote in Swedish history.

Beowulf chronicles the adventures of a heroic yet troubled warrior who claims the throne of his people by defending their kingdom from a series of vicious monsters. Written by an unknown author in the seventh or eighth century, Beowulf is the oldest surviving epic in English literature.

For all that professors of literature go on about it, Beowulf isn't really the most complex story. There's a monster, Beowulf kills it. There's another monster, Beowulf kills it. Later there's another monster, Beowulf kills it, and dies in the process. Does that sound like some teenager's Mary Sue hero-fic to anyone else? I guess if the only work of literature from the present day to survive 15 centuries hence is the tale of a young violet-eyed witch newly arrived at Hogwarts who defeats Voldemort and has Harry, Draco and Snape all fall in love with her, professors of the future will have to make a big deal of that, too.

The recent Beowulf movie changed things around a bit to make it more of a story, but wasn't as original as its writers evidently thought - back in 1999, Christopher Lambert starred in a Beowulf movie which featured Grendel's mother (played by Playboy Playmate Layla Roberts) seducing Hrothgar, with Grendel being their son. I can forgive the writers of the current movie claiming to have come up with the idea themselves, though, since the Lambert version is howlingly bad, and no one in their right mind would watch more than a few minutes of it before deciding life's too short and switching it off. (I've seen it four times. F%#& off.) Layla's a good-looking woman, but this movie doesn't mess about with its depiction of Grendel's-mother-as-seductress, going straight for Angelina Jolie, who even in full CGI (as opposed to Layla, who was real aside from her boobs) can seduce anything.

Except McFarlane, apparently, since they evidently didn't bother licensing the likenesses of the actors, as their Beowulf line gives us only those characters who weren't based on real people. Consequently, instead of Angelina Jolie naked and painted gold, we get this somewhat asexual-looking dino-nagini kind of thing. McFarlane, you idiots.

Admittedly, it's the contrast that hurts her, not her natural appearance - in the movie we only ever saw Angie au naturel in reflections, in water or off polished shields and the like, so this is really our first clear look at her, and when you stop bemoaning what she doesn't look like, she's not too bad. Her hands - the only part seen directly on film - are semi-webbed claws, but the rest of her is rather sleek and slender, with thin overlapping scale plates over most of her body, morphing into a more flexible-looking dino-hide around the arms and neck. She stands... well, it's difficult to say for certain, since she rests on her coiled tail, so depending on how you position her exactly her height can vary; say about 6-6½" average. With her tail straightened out, she's a bit over a foot long.

Her face and head plays with the shapes of snakes and herbivorous dinosaurs, and even sheep in the shape of the mouth and snout - it looks kind of gentle, really, with big liquid eyes and soft lips, and the harder armour plates only coming in further back in a kind of crest that extends up over her scalp. Almost all of the figure is painted in the same fashion, yellow drybrushed highlights over a brown base, with semi-brown shading around the torso - faking gold, with middling success - but the eyes are picked out nice and clear, with complex cornea and a glossy finish. Extending from beneath the crest is a ponytail of hair, which becomes a braid half-way down her back and melds with the segmented pattern of her tail, becoming its upper surface in a reflection of human-Angie's long prehensile braid-tail.

Articulation is a mixed bag. She's got a swivel/pin neck and shoulders, angled swivel elbows, swivel wrists, and a swivel waist - the elbows and wrists are of pretty limited use, since the cross-section of the arms at those points is a pretty flat over, so if you turn the joints off-centre they look ugly. The head can do some nice tilts, but seen from the side it leaves the ponytail coming out of the back of her neck, rather than head, when it's facing forwards; the waist, with the intricate scale pattern flowing over it (and the ponytail at the back), is pretty difficult to use without mucking up the look of the body. The joints also affect the figure's looks, with the central discs of the balljoints remaining the un-drybrushed dark brown, and thus highly visible against the gold skin around them.

Then there's the tail, which is flexible along its whole length. The idea of the figure, along with its purpose-molded base (a mound of coins, with various other trinkets of treasure strewn in by way of variety) is to coil the tail around in the provided hollow, allowing Angie to rear upwards on it, but in practical terms it's a bit of a gamble. For one thing, twisting and turning a thick, sculpted piece of plastic like this isn't a precision task - you mostly just have to settle for near-enough in where the tail winds up settling. On top of that, the tip of the tail - the most expressive part - is too thin to be properly poseable, so it just flops about wherever it lands - the idea is that it sits in the trough provided in the base, but you have to be really lucky to wedge it in well enough for it to stay put. And given that the figure has to balance on the coiled tail, you can't just concentrate on making it look good - appearance has to be sacrificed in order to achieve a pose where she'll remain upright.

(Personally I prefer having her posed as if swimming, with the tail straight out behind her, swaying side to side, and the head tilted back as far as it'll go - it makes the ponytail look far more natural too, though obviously you'll need some way to suspend her in mid-air.)

As I said, she's not bad-looking - sure you'd rather she be regular Angie in the bedroom, but she's not ugly as a demon, just strange; if she insisted on reverting to her true form to lounge about the castle now and then, you'd get used to it in no time. Probably give her a rattle that way once in a while just for variety. The figure's not ambitious though - it doesn't go all-out at being an action figure, nor does it devote itself to being a good-looking McStatue, so you wind up with a figure that looks kind of good, and that you can kind of pose, but it never really wows you.

-- 01/28/09

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