- Rated PG-13
- Buy the BD
All photos © Paramount Pictures
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
fter being invited to a sneak peak of some footage from Paramount’s big screen adaptation of “Beowulf” earlier this year, I left the screening feeling completely underwhelmed. Never a big fan of 3-D (it’s a silly gimmick that never stuck), the experience was completely lost on me, despite co-writer Roger Avary (“Pulp Fiction”) likening it to an acid trip. But a psychedelic sword-and-sandals flick this is not, and while the film is generally being marketed towards the “300” crowd, there’s simply not enough spilt blood to justify what amounts to an over-hyped action flick with very little action. It also begs to ask the question: if people dreaded reading the poem in school, who's going to pay to see it in theaters?
For those unfamiliar with “Beowulf,” and therefore considered lucky to have escaped their local school system unscathed, the poem tells the tale of Danish King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins) and his troubles with the demon Grendel (Crispin Glover). After his people are slaughtered and his kingdom ruined by the monster following a night of celebration, Hrothgar calls on the world’s bravest warriors to travel to Denmark and rid him of the demon. Only one answers the plea for help: Beowulf (Ray Winstone), a warrior so confident in his abilities that he actually strips himself of his weapons and armor before taking on the 20-foot creature. Beowulf comes out the victor, but when he’s sent into the caves to destroy Grendel’s mother (Angelina Jolie), he’s seduced by the demon into a deal that would make him the most powerful king in the world. He doesn’t read the fine print, however, and several years later, Beowulf’s deal comes back to bite him in the ass.
For all the talk about how performance-capture is the future of the industry, the characters still suffer from something that’s been plaguing it for years: dead-eye syndrome. It’s definitely better here than it has been before, but the fact that it’s still noticeable certainly takes away from the experience. Equally disappointing is the way in which the 3-D technology is never used to its full potential. Zemeckis was smart to spend more time immersing the audience into the world of the film than having arrows fly directly at them, but after watching the umpteenth crane shot through snow-covered tree branches, the gimmick quickly wears out its welcome.
Though his physical appearance hasn’t been transferred to the screen like most of the other actors, Ray Winstone’s gravelly voice is the only reason the character of Beowulf works. It lends a certain strength to the character as his younger self, and when the film jumps several years ahead into the future, he sounds like a grizzled king should. Unfortunately, he’s not given a whole lot to do other than huff and puff, scream at monsters, and constantly yell out “I am Beowulf” throughout the course of the 113-minute runtime, and though Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary’s script features two very cool battle sequences (including a spectacular aerial fight with a dragon), the story that surrounds them is strangely hollow. It’s like “300,” minus the politics.
In the end, the movie feels more like “Shrek” (was the “Austin Powers”-inspired nude scene really necessary?) than the historical epic it set out to be. Part of this is because the film is animated, but it’s mostly because the story sucks. There’s a reason people hated reading this poem in English class, and it doesn't have anything to do with a lack of bloodshed or slapstick comedy. There’s nothing of real substance to be found, and although the film tries to offer a lesson in morality, lust and greed, all you’ll really learn is that when approached by a naked succubus that looks like Angelina Jolie, even the strongest-willed men can fold under pressure.
Director's Cut Blu-Ray Review:
It’s a bit surprising to see a fanboy movie like “Beowulf” not receive a snazzy, multi-disc release, but I have to credit Paramount for acknowledging the fact that it simply wasn’t necessary. Though an audio commentary with writers Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary would’ve been nice, the included special features do an excellent job of explaining the filmmaking process behind the film. The 24-minute making-of featurette, “A Hero’s Journey,” is the best of the bunch – offering a behind-the-scenes look at the latest in motion capture techniques – while four more featurettes cover everything from pre-production (“The Origin of Beowulf”) to creature design (“Beasts of Burden”). The seven-minute “Beasts of Burden” even revealed something I never would have guessed: along with playing the role of Beowulf, star Ray Winstone also provided mo-cap for the dragon.
Exclusive to the Blu-ray release is a monotonous picture-in-picture video diary of the film's mo-cap and pre-viz footage (“Beowulf in the Volume”), a continuation of the aforementioned making-of (“The Journey Continues”), and a 10-minute conversation with director Robert Zemeckis. In addition to the bonus material, the film is also presented as an unrated director’s cut that doesn't include any additional footage, but does feature more blood. One can only hope that the movie will eventually be available in 3-D, since that was the way it was meant to be seen.