– Summary –
Director : Robert Zemeckis
Cast : Voices (and Performance Capture) of: Angelina Jolie, Brendan Gleeson, Ray Winstone, John Malkovitch, Anthony Hopkins,
Year of Release : 2007
Length : 120 Minutes
Synopsis: When a horrific creature terrorizes a village in ancient Denmark, a warrior hero known as Beowulf is summoned to deal with it. But he soon discovers that not only must he deal with the external demons, but the internal ones as well, as he is tempted to do something quite un-heroic.
Review : Staggeringly staged and executed film, Zemeckis’ usual flourishes abound in this wild, wicked, thrilling action/adventure film. Be warned, though, it’s quite graphic and violent, so those with children looking for an animated kids film to watch, you’d best avoid this. For adults only.
Brutal, bloody, monstrous retelling of the ancient Danish legend of Beowulf, this time through the performance-captured eyes of Robert Zemekis, Beowulf as a movie stands over anything the director has done before, and tears it to shreds.
Thank goodness, really, because after the disastrously stupid version starring Christopher Lambert, and the more recent live action versions disappearing onto B-movie shelves across the land, this story needed a kick in the backside.
Beowulf is filmed using the revolutionary (performance) motion-capture process established with films like The Polar Express and Monster House (both Zemeckis productions, although the latter was directed by Gil Kenan), and is not your typical animated film. Whereas most animated films are marketed and aimed squarely at children, Beowulf is an adult story, and the film reflects this. Nudity, violence, monsters and brutality you’d only normally see in a live action film, Beowulf is a modern masterpiece of storytelling and animation. In a mythical era of legends and magic, a kingdom is under siege by a maniacal monster who torments the population and murders inhabitants seemingly on a whim. Grendel, for this is the monsters name, is an aberration, an abominable creation borne of a demonic mother and a human father. Grendel attacks the great mead hall of Heorot, where the king (Hrothgar, voiced and performance captured by Anthony Hopkins) and his men are having a drunken party. Tearing most of the men apart, Grendel turns and flees as Hrothgar confronts him.
The King summons the help of distant monster-killer Beowulf, leader of a group of what appear to be mercenary soldiers looking for adventure. When Beowulf arrives, he is not treated with a great deal of respect by some of the Kings soldiers, who see him as somebody of ill repute. Beowulf only proves himself once he’s taken on Grendel and won, which leads him to become a favorite “son” of the King, who proclaims him heir of the kingdom; Beowulf lies about killing Grendel’s mother (Angelina Jolie in scintillating form… if you know what I mean!) after caving in to her temptations….ie, he gets a little nookie and in turn his kingdom is left in peace…. relatively speaking.
After proclaiming the death of Grendel’s mother, Hrothgar throws himself from a high window, leaving Beowulf to rule over the kingdom. Year later, we see Beowulf a disheartened, moody shadow of his former self, as he is weighed down with both running the Kingdom and guilt over his previous actions. With the reappearance of a symbolic horn slapping Beowulf’s agreement with Grendels mother in the face, Beowulf seeks retribution from the demon in the cave, and goes to kill her. Unfortunately, the demon unleashes an enormous dragon upon the city, and Beowulf must defeat the monster to reclaim his honor.
Well, at least, I think that’s what happens. To be honest, the story means very little by this stage, and you are simply swept up in the staggering visuals, which are on a level never before seen in an animated film.
In previous performance-capture features, most criticism has been leveled at the animation of the human’s eyes, which seemed dead and lifeless, removing any emotion for the audience and thus negating the effect of the film overall. The Polar Express came in for a particular bashing in this regard, and to some extent, it’s probably unwarranted in the harshness. However, it would appear that a lot of effort was put into Beowulf in order to rectify what was seen as a major problem for animated films: the ability of the human eye to convey emotion is something animation has yet to grasp credibly, no matter how much they try.
But the effort is noticeable. There are moments of clarity in the animation when you really do feel for Beowulf and his men, and all the characters in the film. Particularly Hrothgar’s wife, voiced by Robin Wright-Penn, who projects a vulnerability and depth that belies her animated nature. The movement of all the characters is relatively good, with a few moments of clunky eye-jarring body twisting scattered in between what can only be described as some of the most jaw-dropping visuals ever committed to film. The visual effects in the film are stunning, hyper-realistic and utterly convincing. Grendel, the Dragon, Grendel’s mother, all are wonderful examples of superb animation and development.
Beowulf struts across the screen in various garbs, although there is a disturbing amount of dudity on occasion: viewers should be ready for the near-on full frontal Beowulf to stride across the frame with only the barest of coverings over his modesty: the same can be said of Grendels mother, who was captured in the guide of Angelina Jolie, who is totally revealed in every way.
The animation is impressive, but the film would be nothing were it not for the equally good vocal performances from the cast. British actor Ray Winstone is the lead role, his commanding vocal presence a perfect combination for the character. Anthony Hopkins does his best drunken slurring as Hrothgar, although the quantity of nudity Hrothgar undergoes as the film progresses might have been a surprise to him.
John Malkovich plays Unferth, the lead soldier in Hrothgar’s army, and the one who sees Beowulf as a usurper, and detests him. Malkovitch’s vocals are strained, somewhat stilted and reticent, a weird thing to say about anything Malkovich does. I found this character the least realized of all in the film. Brendon Gleeson has a wonderful time as Beowulf’s right had man Wiglaf, and he’s a joy to watch and hear.
It must be said that this is an animated film that’s most definitely not suited for children. Beowulf is a film adventure, in a similar vein to Zach Synders 300, with plenty of blood and violence. There’s a sense of achievement in watching this film, and whether or not you get swept up in the story (I didn’t but that’s okay because there’s plenty else to keep you occupied) you will still enjoy yourself regardless. Beowulf rocks.