Movie Review: Beowulf [2007]

Uber-producer/Director Robert Zemeckis (“Monster House”, “Tales From the Crypt” series) brings us this foray into “300” territory, a breathtaking bit of animated 3-D craziness for those of you who like video game style storytelling.  For that’s what this reminds me of, a big movie length Playstation intro out of one of the Lord of the Rings titles.

The story concerns a Danish king in the year 500-ish A.D. (voiced by Anthony Hopkins), who has a rip roaring kegger in his spiffy new party house crashed by the horribly mutated (and hungry) Grendel (Crispin Hellion Glover – yes, Hellion).  Grendel proceeds to tear folks limb from limb and drag a few back to his cave for later dining.  The Danes don’t have anyone man enough to fight the beast (despite John Malkovich’s character Unferth being SUPPOSEDLY the local hero) , so they close said party house and put out a reward to anyone ELSE who can do the job for them.

Along comes Beowulf (Ray Winstone, who is aided the most by the animation of his character) and his merry men from across the sea – full of boasts, wanton sexual frustration and a desire for gold.  They offer to do the deed, and talk the king in to re-opening Party Central in the process.  After a WEIRD bit of nude fighting on the part of Beowulf (don’t ask), Grendel has his arm ripped off and runs back to his mountain abode.  Beowulf and co. follow where the hero finishes off the beast. . . and it’s sexy, gold dripping mother (Angelina Jolie).  Or so he says.  Move ahead a few decades, and a grey haired beowulf finds that sins of his past have created a new problem. . . and once again he must don shield and loincloth to save the kingdom.

The animation is done via motion tracking CGI-type goodness over the actual actors, which was used effectively by Zemeckis for “The Polar Express”.  But unlike that film, here the characters look emotionless and unblinking.  It is the countryside and village which are truly the show stealers, as the camera glides over realistic looking trees, or dips down to scour above the smooth rocks along a river.  And stuff is constantly trying to poke you in the eye, not like the old days of 3-D where 1 or 2 good scenes were all you got in a movie.  In ‘Beowulf’, literally every scene has gorgeous graphics and well designed multi-layers of foliage and natural artifacts.

The story, although written by the very capable duo of Neil Gaiman (“Stardust”) & Roger Avary (“Pulp Fiction”), is simplistic, often violent and chock full of innuendo.  Hey, I liked it but this ain’t ‘Sophie’s Choice’, mmmmk?   And frankly, considering the epic poem on which it’s based, I think the narrative finds a nice compromise of attempted loyalty to the tale, at least it’s backbone, while still managing to pander to it’s adolescent audience.

Definitely go see this one, as it offers a nice glimpse of the future of film-making, where expensive actors and lavish sets will be stored on hard drives.  Ten years from now, as technology allows for faster rendering times on animated production, not every story will come off this cartoonish and lacking in dramatic depth (despite being voiced by heavy weights such as Malkovich and Hopkins).

Perhaps that is truly the story that Beowulf tells us – one of our own cinematic destiny.

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One Response to “Movie Review: Beowulf [2007]”

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