Starring: Ray Winstone, Robin Wright Penn, Anthony Hopkins, John Malkovich, Crispin Glover, Brendan Gleeson, Angelina Jolie
Written by: Neil Gaiman, Roger Avary
First, let me just admit that I didn’t read the original epic poem, so I won’t make any opinions about how true Beowulf the movie is to the source material. Secondly, I was fortunate enough to catch the 3-D version, so if over-ooh and ahh about the visuals, just know that they were literally popping off the screen for me, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Beowulf is based on the Old English epic poem dating as far back as around the eighth century. In the movie, Beowulf is a monster-killer and he and his stalwart band of fearless Geats arrive in Danish lands to rid a small village of their local monster, Grendel, voiced marvelously by Crispin Glover. Unfortunately, Beowulf (Ray Winstone) must also deal with Grendel’s mother, voiced by and modeled after the inimitable Angelina Jolie, and then later fight a dragon. Despite these numerous foes, the real opposition for Beowulf is himself. He must overcome the fallacies of his nature to truly be the hero everyone, including himself, believes he is.
The visuals are amazing and have just enough of a comic book influence to give the framing an extra edge. Point-of-view and over-the-shoulder perspectives make you feel like you’re part of the action. Additionally, Robert Zemeckis’ team of animators did a superb job capturing the action and facial movements of the actors with only a few animations falling into the Uncanny Valley. I enjoy how all of the players were enhanced except for Angelina Jolie. Why mess with a masterpiece, after all?
Grendel, the troll, is one of the better designed creatures to come along in a while. The attention to detail is awe inspiring and you will find yourself admiring the many scales and hairs on his head despite his grotesqueness. His weakness and his reason for attacking the humans also offers a nice change of pace and gives the monster a bit of character for us to care about before he dies.
Credit is due to the writers Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary for squeezing in most of the plot points from the poem into this tightly packed film. Beowulf’s arc has a decent bend in it, with him starting out as an arrogant, glory-seeking fool and ending as a wizened king who must quell his past regrets before it’s too late. My only real concern is the sexualization in the film. Beowulf decides to fight Grendel in the buff. Grendel’s mother strokes Beowulf’s sword while she seduces him until the metal explodes into liquid steel ejaculation. Later, in Beowulf’s advancing years, he’s bedding a teenage girl. While this element added the adult factor, reminding us that not all cartoons are for kids, it became gratuitous when it didn’t serve the plot.
As a fan of animation, I wouldn’t mind if more movies were created in the same vein. Sets would always look great, the players would always be attractive and the action would always be death defying. That’s not to say I want every film to be animated, but just the same, I think Zemeckis may have stumbled upon the way of the future in filmmaking.