General Release 2007
115 minutes approx
Robin Wright Penn
Crispin Hellion Glover
Grendel's Mother -
Directed by -
Written by -
Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary
When King Hrothgar opens his new celebration hall, it is visited by Grendel, a huge deformed monster that kills most of his men and destroys everything inside. The call for help goes out and is answered by Beowulf, a hero who is not above embellishing his own triumphs. He defeats Grendel, but learns that there is another, greater evil in the hills, Grendel's mother, a demon who can ensnare men's minds and use their offspring to wreak great vengeance, as she did with Hrothgar's son Grendel. Can the flawed Beowulf escape her enchantment and destroy the evil for all time?
As nobody here at the SCI FI FREAK SITE has ever read the old english epic poem which is the origin of the enduring tale of Beowulf and Grendel, we will not be referring to it in this review. This is about the film alone.
BEOWULF uses the same technology as Bob Zemeckis's film THE POLAR EXPRESS in which the actors' performances are captured by computer and then used to animate the characters on screen. Whilst there might be great opportunities in the use of this technique (making Grendel more human for example) it seems very strange to performance capture and actor and then use them to animate a character that looks exactly like the actor. The results are never going to be completely accurate and it is distracting looking at a facsimile of, say Anthony Hopkins, doing a bad impersonation of him. This also goes for the characters of Unferth, Wiglaf and Grendel's mother, all of whom are instantly recognisable, but never quite right.
The central character of Beowulf is the exception, possibly because greater attention has been paid to his creation as he appears in the greater part of the movie. It also allows the director to have the character run around stark naked fighting the monster, when the actor would likely have baulked. This sequence is, actually, rather ridiculous as objects are constantly placed between the camera and the Beowulf's baby-making equipment like in the old breakfast cereal adverts. It's funny, but not in the way that the director intended.
Other aspects of the animation don't impress, especially the horses and dogs, which never move anything like real animals, and the need the director has to have his camera fly about over unfeasibly large landscapes, just to show that he can. Once is fine, but after that it doesn't serve the story. Also the bits that are put in so that the film can be shown in Imax 3D are as annoying as they always are when any 3D film is shown flat.
It's certainly not all bad though. Angelina Jolie as Grendel's mother, dripping strategically-placed gold liquid, is a stunning acheivement and certainly conveys why no man can resist her charms and the battle with the dragon that is Beowulf's son is epic, exciting and a rousing climax.
Queen Wealthow is a pleasingly down to earth character amongst all the testosterone pumped warriors and her relationship with Hrothgar and Beowulf is more complex than might have been expected. Beowulf's lieutenant Wiglaf is also a great character in his own right. The plotting isn't over-complicated, but it does have some sly digs in it, gives huge flaws to all of its male characters (lust, drunkenness, arrogance, cruelty) whilst also revelling in the morality-free atmosphere of their pleasures. It even gives substance and reason to Grendel's assaults on the drinking hall, although the noisy neighbour issue might have been more easily resolved with a phone call to the council.
As an animation, BEOWULF is caught between its twin personalites of wanting to be an adult take on the fantasy genre and needing to keep it clean enough and the violence limited enough for the 12A certificate and the younger audience it might attract. Deciding which audience it was after might have crafted a more certain and effective film.
You won't sleep through BEOWULF and there are moments where you will be thrilled, excited, impressed and titillated, but you will also likely leave feeling strangely underwhelmed.Top
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