Movie Review: Beowulf

Hwæt! Þe celebrated saga in Anglo-Saxon
Hollywood has adapted anew.
Hear then of how brave Beowulf
Confronted the creature Grendel and his kin
In Þis time-honored tale retold with techno-wizardry.

Cast and Crew

Director: Robert Zemeckis

Writers: Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary
Adapted from the epic poem.

Cast
Ray Winstone as Beowulf
Robin Wright Penn as Wealthow
Anthony Hopkins as Hrothgar
Crispin Glover as Grendel
Charlotte Salt as Estrith
Angelina Jolie as Grendel’s Mother
Brendan Gleeson as Wigluf
Sebastian Roché as Wulfgar
John Malcovich as Unferth

Premise

A monster bedevils the hall of King Hrothgar. Brave-hearted Beowulf and his Geats agree to rid the realm of gargantuan Grendel, but learns that greater danger awaits.

High Points

1. An epic intended to be recited orally has its own set of conventions and these do not necessary suit cinema. Purists may protest some significant changes made by Gaiman and Avary, but they tie together several elements of the tale and address some lingering questions about Beowulf’s exploits. I don’t mean that this is better than the original, but the changed story fits the medium of film and its audience. The script also addresses these changes as differences between the tale sung by bards and the reality experienced by the characters.

2. The film boasts many scenes of brawl and battle.

Low Points

1. The director decided to have Beowulf disrobe before he meets Grendel in battle. Zemeckis then takes the Austin Powers route of placing foreground objects between our perspective and Beowulf’s private parts. The results are comical in ways that do not suit the tone of this film.

2. Sandal-epics tend toward kitsch, and Grendel’s mother pushes Beowulf into this territory. Blame both Jolie’s bizarre accent and also the design for the monster-mother which makes it appears as though she wears stiletto heels.

3. If you’re going to make a movie this breath-taking in 3-D, have more theaters show it in 3-D.

The Scores:

Originality: 3/5 Though an adaptation, it wins points for taking an original approach and the use to which it puts new technology.

Story. 5/6.

Effects: 6/6 Some people have complained that the characters look slightly zombie-like; others feel it should have been stylized further. You can debate the results, but the effects are, without question, fantastic.

Acting/Voice acting: 4/6 Most of the actors do a good job, though of course we have the usual epic shouting. Still, Beowulf has presented the story with some nuance and humor.

Production: 6/6

Emotional: 4/6 Though a more human story than 300, it still left me somewhat cold. I also doubt it will draw the fanatical audience that 300 did, though I consider it in many respects a better film.

Overall: 5/6 The methods by which they tell the tale will receive varying responses. I felt the CGI/motion capture created a stylized world suited to the old epic. Many others found it distancing, and far inferior to the effect that might be had by simply using actors and conventional film techniques.

Beowulf receives a score of 33/42

4 replies on “Movie Review: Beowulf”

  1. smeep says:

    All in all good…
    But there were two things that bothered me. The first was point 1. Everyone in the theatre that I was watching it in laughed. It’s a moment in the film that really shouldn’t have laughing. Could have been solved very easily by having him wear a loin cloth. Besides, who fights a 16 foot troll naked? Really. The second was how much this film seemed to try to be 300. Maybe it was the fact that Beowulf yells, "I… AM… BEOWULF" far too many times. There were times when you could have cut dialog from 300 and put it in this movie and it still would have worked. "SPARTAWULF! TONIGHT WE DINE… ON GRENDEL!" But, it is one of the better adaptations. It’s the 3rd film I’ve seen on the subject. The first was with Christopher Lambert. Not a memorable film. The second was with Gerard Butler, oddly enough. It was called Beowulf & Grendel. It was an interesting interpretation as well. I recommend people see that one, too.

  2. ViperDriver says:

    This movie was irretrievably bad.
    I’m sorry, but the ‘Effects 6/6’ is problematic for me. The characters were sunk so deeply into the Uncanny Valley that they looked like extremely creepy wax dolls desperate to fool you as to their humanity long enough for their puppeteers to sneak up behind you and club you on the head. Bad bad bad bad bad. Quibbling over the design choices made to Angelina Jolie’s computer-generated fantasy persona is simply deck chairs on the Titanic.

    The theater I was in started laughing at the AWESUM SERENDIPITY moments involving Beowulf’s d*ck as well, and not in a charitable way. That threw off the entire movie for me; while everything else to that point could have been segregated as ‘well, that’s a technical problem with the all-animation decision’ that bit was so clearly a directorial decision that it soured any chance the film had of rising above ‘painful joke.’

    Finally, the effects on those creatures which *weren’t* motioncapped actors was okay…but I get way more of an emotional response to stuff my Mac generates for me on a regular basis while gaming.

    The plot changes were completely fine. As was said, it’s a movie and they made sense.

    The most I got out of the film was to close my eyes when Anthony Hopkins was speaking and to try to imagine him in person delivering the lines. That helped.

    • Timeshredder says:

      Re: This movie was irretrievably bad.

      I’m sorry, but the ‘Effects 6/6’ is problematic for me. The characters were sunk so deeply into the Uncanny Valley that they looked like extremely creepy wax dolls desperate to fool you as to their humanity long enough for their puppeteers to sneak up behind you and club you on the head. Bad bad bad bad bad. Quibbling over the design choices made to Angelina Jolie’s computer-generated fantasy persona is simply deck chairs on the Titanic.

      I think one has to view this as a particular kind of movie, in the same way one watches animation differently than one watches live action. But yeah, perhaps it would have been better to either stylize it further or use real actors with effects.

    • smeep says:

      Re: This movie was irretrievably bad.

      The characters were sunk so deeply into the Uncanny Valley that they looked like extremely creepy wax dolls desperate to fool you as to their humanity long enough for their puppeteers to sneak up behind you and club you on the head.

      Seems to me there’s an article on this. You can only get so close to real. And the closer you get to that point, the more creepy it just ends up being. That’s why I think actors don’t have to worry about being replaced by CG.

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