Friday, November 16, 2007


“I am Beowulf!”

The film follows a condensed, and rushed, variation of the original epic poem. After his hall is attacked by a fearsome creature known as Grendel (Crispin Glover), King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins) offers half of his fortune to anyone who can rid his kingdom of the monster. The legendary warrior Beowulf (Ray Winstone) arrives, for the glory of defeating the demon.

The film follows Beowulf’s battle with Grendel and his encounter with Grendel’s mother (Angelina Jolie) in the dark caves of the mountains. Secrets will be unearthed, curses laid down, and Beowulf’s glory will grow - though not without a cost.

In terms of look the film achieves much of what it sets out to do. The appearance of the characters (each taken from the individual actors) is the best I’ve seen human beings done in this type of computer animation. Also worth noting are the battle scenes which work quite well, especially if you have a chance to see the film in the IMAX 3-D version where the blood and spears shoot out at you.

Though the look works there are many problems with the non-human characters. The monsters in the film are scary in only a depressing B-movie kind of way. Grendel is a big dumb ogre, the dragon is ferocious but bland, and we never get to see the true form of Grendel’s mother (though it is often teased in reflection). The only real monsters worth mentioning are the sea creature Beowulf slays during a flashback in what is the best scene of the film.

Another huge issue is the tone of the film. It ranges from cheesy to serious, and bloody to bufoonery. At times it is a fairy tale and at others it is a brutal slash fest. At times it, not so subtly, plays on sexual themes and at others it loses all tension. It’s just all over the place and never decides what type of story it wants to tell. Had the film been done in a more dramatic and hardcore vision (as some of the battle scenes are) it might have stood a chance (and would no doubt earned a hard R or even possibly a NC-17). Sadly for us however the film went for the PG-13 market dumbing down its story, dulling its edges, and scantily cladding its more adult themes into a poor excuse for a teenage geek fantasy.

And although the film’s 3-D effects are interesting to look at, during large stretches of the film that is all that is happening. Sure the 3-D rendering works well in the action scenes, but since the majority of the film isn’t action you are left with effects like “Gee, that chair is closer to me than that table” or “Wow look at how close that glass of mead is.” Though it is odd at least it keeps your interest, in a minimal sort of way. Had I viewed a regular print of the film I have no doubt it would have put me to sleep.

Is Beowulf worth seeing? Eh. Although the 3-D effects work well it’s hard to justify the higher price movie goers will have to pay to see it. And without those effects the film suffers (I’d drop a half-star off my rating for the non 3-D version of the film). It will be interesting to see how the film will fare on DVD. Also troubling is the campy nature of some of the scenes which would seem more at home in a skit satirizing a bad film than the actual theatrical big budget film which is meant to be taken seriously. Other than one or two good memorable moments (and many, many more unintentionally bad ones) there’s just not much to remember this hero. The tale of Beowulf may have survived for hundreds of years, but it dies a slow death on screen.

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