Beowulf


Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Written by:Neil Gaiman, Roger Avary
Starring: Ray Winstone, Robin Wright Penn, Anthony Hopkins, Angelina Jolie, John Malkovich, Brendan Gleeson
Released: November 29, 2007
Grade: B+

The tale of Beowulf comes from a lengthy poem written approximately 1,000 years ago.  No one knows who wrote it.  It is set in Scandinavia in the 5th and 6th centuries and has been the subject of much scrutiny by historians.  How much of the story and its characters are real?  Is it all a simple fable?  We’ll never know for sure.

After having been made into a poor live-action movie in 1999 (starring Christopher Lambert), Beowulf has been brought back to the screen in animation form by director Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump).

I think I’m correct in calling this film “animated” but it’s not so clear cut.  The film has been made using a “performance capture” technique.  The way it works is that real actors have thousands of digital sensors attached to their face and body.  Every movement is captured by a computer and these movements are then used to create the animated characters that we see in the film.  This same method was used to bring Gollum to life in The Lord Of The Rings movies.

Getting back to the story, Beowulf (Winstone) is a brave English warrior who has travelled to a Denmark in search of fame and fortune.  The King (Hopkins) has offered a reward to any man who can kill the evil monster named Grendel that is terrorising his kingdom.  Beowulf is successful in his task and in return, the King gives him a valuable golden horn.

It turns out that there’s one more evil being that will need to be slain – Grendel’s mother.  When Beowulf finds her in a cave high atop the nearby mountains, he is seduced by her incredible beauty.  She offers Beowulf a deal – she will make him “the greatest king who ever lived” if he will sleep with her and give her a son.  Beowulf accepts the offer but will regret it for the rest of his life…

I thought this film took a little while to get going but once the stage was set, I enjoyed it a lot.  It reminded me of a Shakespearean tragedy – it’s easy to follow and you sense that trouble lurks around every corner.

There’s a great group of actors amongst the cast also.  Some look exactly like they do in real life (such as Angelina Jolie and Anthony Hopkins) but others look different (such as Ray Winstone as Beowulf).  Seeing them in quasi-animated form gives the film a distinctive look.  I like this style and it suits the legendary nature of the story.  I don’t think this could have worked as a live action movie (as verified by the 1999 film discussed above).

The film is showing in selected cinemas in a 3-D format.  I know a lot of people wait until movies are released on DVD before watching them but here’s one reason to make a trip to the cinema.  Whilst I only saw the film in 2-D, I’m told the 3-D version is incredible from a visual perspective.