Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Written by Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary
Ray Winstone as Beowulf (voice)
Anthony Hopkins as Hrothgar (voice)
John Malkovich as Unferth (voice)
Robin Wright Penn as Wealthow (voice)
Brendan Gleeson as Wiglaf (voice)
Crispin Glover as Grendel (voice)
Alison Lohman as Ursula (voice)
Angelina Jolie as Grendel's Mother (voice)
115 Minutes(Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence including disturbing images, some sexual material and nudity. )
Robert Zemeckis believes that the new breed of computer animation-first seen in "The Polar Express" and now seen in "Beowulf"-is the "future of cinema." I kind of think that's a bit of a stretch-but it certainly is something neat to see once every few years or so. I didn't have a website then, but I am one of the few that thought "The Polar Express" was a magical film, and it made my Top 10 list of 2004. "Beowulf" didn't exactly wow me as much as that film did, but it certainly was a good time-especially the first act and the last act. It kind of meanders in the middle of a little bit, a period that actually diverts from the original poem, if I remember correctly. Zemeckis isn't done with this brand of computer animation-and in 2009 we'll be able to see Jim Carey in a new version of "A Christmas Carol." I don't really know if that's needed to be added to film history, and perhaps an original story with this animation should be next.
I read the epic poem of "Beowulf" in my freshman year in high school, so my memory is a little faded about what exactly transpired. We begin with a group led by the King Hrothgar, but their celebration in their "dome of drink and fornication" ends quickly when they are attacked by the demon Grendel (played perfectly by Crispin Glover, and I did mention this film to him when I met him at the screening of "It Is Fine, EVERYTHING IS FINE!!!") The King decides not to depend on the Gods for help-instead they need a hero. So they rely on the power of Beowulf, a rather prideful man (which ends up being his downfall, in a real dose of hubris) who comes prepared to kill the demon. Over time he will face three villains-the demon Grendel, Grendel's mother (played by Angelina Jolie, more on that later), and finally a fire-breathing dragon who may have closer ties to Beowulf than he would think.
The film starts off extremely good, with such careful attention to detail-I heard that while doing "The Polar Express" the animators had a hard time with the eyes, something they worked harder on in this film. The end credits have countless names listed for things like "hair" and "clothing." I can only imagine the giant amount of effort that went into this. The initial Grendel attack, the introduction of Beowulf, and the eventual nude battle between man and demon were terrific entertainment, and I enjoyed myself way better than I did watching "300," one of the most mediocre films of this, or any, year. The ending portions where Beowulf fights the dragon are quite exhilarating, and feature some amazing animated tracking shots. A shot near the end excited me as much as the terrific "Flight of the Ticket" scene in 'The Polar Express." However the middle of "Beowulf" falters greatly, including the introduction of Grendel's mother-who was not a hot tamale that resembled Jolie, but a wild and evil hag. And the slow and dreamy pacing of the middle just doesn't seem to fit the bookends of the movie, and for a while everything just came to a standstill. If you remember way back to last July there was an adaptation of part of "Beowulf," called "Beowulf and Grendel." The full review can be found in the July 2006 section of this site. That film, made for much cheaper and with live action actors like Gerald Butler and Sarah Polley, does not include the dragon portion of the poem, focusing on Grendel and his mother. That film is far from perfect, but is a decent adaptation for getting certain details, including the hag-like status of Grendel's mother.
Besides Jolie, the other odd casting choice is probably Ray Winstone as Beowulf. I love Winstone in films like "The Departed," "The Proposition," and even "Breaking and Entering," but this is the biggest stretch in changing the actor after Glover's Grendel. But you can see Crispin Glover in the part-he's a wild and wacky and strange character in real life, and he just fit the Grendel persona, even though you can hardly see its him under the animation. But Winstone is nothing like Beowulf, and those who can picture him can see. I may have preferred an unknown over him in the end. The film has fun with the pridefulness of the Beowulf character, including how he enjoys his own nudity, and wants to fight Grendel in that way-and we get the classic comedy of people and things in the way of the more risque body parts. And you'd have to be a fool to not spot the obvious references to Beowulf being a Christ figure-from the fact that they use him instead of the Gods, from his Christlike position at the end, and even to his crew chanting "For gold! For glory! For Beowulf!" I went to high school long enough to learn that explorers went after gold, glory, and God.
And so Zemeckis' "way of the future" goes on to "Beowulf," a wildly entertaining and visually stunning adaptation of the great poem. I can question choices in the middle section greatly, and I am wondering if it was worth some brief Jolie nudity over actually telling the story better, but many will debate with me on that one. This film is also being placed in IMAX 3-D and Digital 3-D, but I saw it neither of those formats, going with the 2-D version because it was. . .well, free.