***1/2 (out of 5)
November 16, 2007
Ray Winstone as BEOWULF
Anthony Hopkins as HROTHGAR
John Malkovich as UNFERTH
Robin Wright Penn as WEALTHOW
Brendan Gleeson as WIGLAF
Crispin Glover as GRENDEL
Alison Lohman as URSULA
Angelina Jolie as GRENDEL’S MOTHER
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
“Beowulf” has everything you’d need for a great motion picture. It has a great story, an awesome conflict, incredible actors and all of Hollywood’s digital technology thrown behind it. The biggest stumbling block it has is its director.
Robert Zemeckis is a decent director, but too often he becomes a slave to technology. This becomes apparent when you look at how many of his movies make news as much for the effects as they do the film itself (e.g., “Forrest Gump,” “Back to the Future” sequels, “What Lies Beneath” and “The Polar Express”). Fortunately, even with this burden, Zemeckis makes “Beowulf” work pretty well.
Based on the epic hero poem, by way of Neil Gaiman’s graphic novel, “Beowulf” tells the story of a Danish kingdom that has become the victim of the insane demon Grendel. After Grendel kills a batch of villagers during a celebration, the king offers half his gold to anyone who can rid the land of him. The legendary hero Beowulf braves the ocean to come home and reap the rewards.
Beowulf manages to dispatch Grendel (in his birthday suit, no less), but soon Grendel’s mother seeks revenges. This prompts Beowulf to confront her. However, when he reaches her lair, she takes the form of Angelina Jolie, seduces him and strikes a deal that allows her to live and give birth to a new son.
I can’t exactly criticize the story itself because it has stood the test of time – some 1300 years of so. However, I will say that modern audiences generally expect a little more from the story and characters. The interpersonal relationships among the characters are pretty thin, and any hint of a love story between Beowulf and the strikingly unattractive queen is lost in the CGI translation.
Still, you shouldn’t be seeing “Beowulf” for the characters or story. You should be seeing it for the CGI, the action and the mind-blowing special effects.
I realize that this level of CGI isn’t really that new. Even the motion-capture techniques used to emulate the photo-realistic nature of the subjects has been seen before in “The Polar Express” and even more stylized films like “Monster House.” However, there are moments that shine, in particular Angelina Jolie.
This is not just a red-blooded American male drooling over a Hollywood starlet. Her appearance in the film is perhaps the most refined, and artists the world over will attest to the fact that the duplication of the human form is the most complicated thing to do. When Jolie’s face emerges from the water, it is nothing short of breathtaking in how realistic it looks.
When it comes to the action, it’s intense. Using all digital subjects avoids problems we normally see when the line between reality and CGI break down. And the faster things move, the better it looks. Zemeckis can’t resist some cheap gags like swords in the face and sweeping camera moves for the 3D effect, but overall, it is a visual feast.
The biggest advantage “Beowulf” has going for it is that it’s not a film to wait and see on DVD. Even with a 50-inch HD television, it won’t be the same as it is on the big screen. And if it’s worth seeing in the theaters, it’s worth finding one that’s screening it in 3D. Using the RealD technology, “Beowulf” is a treat for the eyes, providing one of the sharpest, clearest and gorgeous 3D experience as close to perfection as we have ever seen.