Set against the coming of Christianity, this is the story of the last hero: in 507, a monstrous troll wreaks havoc in the mead hall of the Danish king, Hrothgar. He offers rewards for the death of Grendel, so Beowulf, a great and boastful Geat warrior, arrives with his thanes. Beowulf sets aside his armor and awaits the monster; a fierce battle ensues that leads to Beowolf's entering the watery lair of Grendel's mother, where a devil's bargain awaits. Beowulf returns to Herot, the castle, and becomes king. Jump ahead many years, and the sins of the father are visited upon Beowulf and his kingdom. The hero must face his weakness and be heroic once again. Is the age of demons over? Written by
Pretty much everyone knows the story of Beowulf - man fights monster, monster's mum and then a dragon - but this ancient story has inspired generations of writers and academics, now it gets a shiny makeover courtesy of Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary.
Beowulf (the man) could have been written as a cookie-cutter hero, but fortunately he's something else - fallible and not yet the hero he must become later in the movie. But (and this is really hard without spoiling the movie), the battle that turns him into a hero also leads inexorably to his undoing. That's something the two writers have brought to the millennia old text and it works perfectly to help fill in some of the gaps in the original poem and provide a back story to events.
A special mention also to Crispin Glover's Grendel. I wasn't particularly struck with the physical realisation of the monster, but the performance is knock out. Instead of just being a rampaging beast, Grendel is almost something to be pitied - a misshapen outcast with noisy neighbours, and his final scene is remarkably touching. Oh and if you don't understand Grendel, you clearly haven't been keeping up with your Old English classes!
But let's be honest, everyone watches a movie about Vikings for the action. And Beowulf delivers this in spades. Here comes my first proviso - Beowulf in the UK is getting a 12A rating, but there is no way I would take a 12 year old to see this film in all its eye-ball spearing, spine-snapping, ligament-tearing glory. This movie would get a higher rating had it been shot in real-life and it's worth considering this before packing the kids into the car. Mostly the violence is justified, but it is there and it's NOT cartoony.
The animation is the talking point of this movie, and its a real step on from the zombified performance of 'Polar Express'. The impression of living, breathing flesh is almost complete with the exception of strangely dead eyes - this movie is a landmark in computer imagery. The majority of the characters are stunningly rendered (Beowulf in particular) in close up, but they somehow look less convincing at a distance. Generally the men are better done than the women, with Queen Wealthow the spitting image of Julie Andrew's queen in Shrek 2.
So, its a violent special effects triumph - could anything be wrong?
Two things. One - the accents. Oh dear god in heaven above what were they thinking - this is a treasure house of appalling voices, Irish(ish), Scottish(ish), Welsh(ish) are all thrown into the mix, but the standout horrors are Jon Malkovich's take on Danish which might have been inspired by the Muppets and Angelina Jolie dusting off her accent from 'Alexander'.
The second is the 3D projection. For reasons best known to studio executives we're all meant to get very excited by 3D all over again. Beowulf is one of the first movies to be released in the UK using REALD
a system familiar to anyone who has been to a Disney park in the last
20 years. The animators of Beowulf clearly had great fun working out new ways of making things jump out of the screen at the audience, but the effect becomes slightly wearisome after a minute or two. Fortunately things settle down later in the movie and the makers stop trying to show off their new technology.
More disappointing, the poor quality of the Polaroid glasses you have to wear make the image slightly blurry and spoilt by reflections. After years waiting for the crystal clarity of digital projection, the whole thing has been undone by a gimmick. If you have a choice, you might be better off seeing a regular 2D version.
A final comment, Beowulf spends part of the movie naked, bet you can't watch it and not think of Austin Powers.
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