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Let’s start this out with the fact that my College Professor of World Civ had us read The Epic of Gilgamesh rather than the one adapted here with Beowulf. So, I went into the film without really knowing anything of the story besides the monster Grendel and the obligatory pride as a curse, creating your own demons, etc. As shown onscreen, it is obvious that the yarn is an ancient one. Besides the archaic traditions—Queens are inherited as the wife of all who take the crown?—it just feels dated and plods along as a result. I like the whole idea of our hero being his own worst enemy, but I would have enjoyed seeing a bit more conflict. The fight with Grendel and the dragon are both magnificent to behold, it’s a shame then that the true orchestrator of the chaos, stunningly played by Angelina Jolie, is ultimately lacking in depth and competition. It actually feels like how I’m sure most students do when reading the epic poem…long-winded, repetitive, and missing the nonstop action our MTV-cultured minds love.

If I were to compare the animation to something, I would not go to 300, as most seem to be doing. Sure the whole “I am BEOWULF!” thing is a direct rip-off, but the aesthetic and story is not. In my opinion, 300 blows this one out of the water, no question. To think of something similar, my mind goes to Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, a great little gem from almost a decade ago. The technology has come far since then, most notably with the fluidity of character movement, detail of liquids/hair/textures, and emotive ability in those moments that succeed with it. However, as far as looks go for the humans, I have to declare Final Fantasy the winner still. The faces in Beowulf continue to keep a plastic/rubber feel, giving the impression everyone had a facelift. Besides the hair on each face, especially the noses, the pores and skin quality so lifelike years ago looks creepy here, as it did in Robert Zemeckis’ Polar Express, (I don’t fault Monster House because it was stylish and cartoony, not attempting to be realistic).

Those faults withstanding, it was a pleasure to view the film in IMAX-3D. Zemeckis utilizes the technology well, giving us moments of true depth. Whether flying through the tree branches, having a spear frozen in front of our eyes, watching bodies fall and flip towards us, and seeing blood splattered in our faces, we are thrown smack dab in the middle of the action. Water and blood are realistic and, along with fire and smoke, shown with nice field of vision, never seeming like a flat plane placed on top of the layer beneath it. The effects are so good, it might have been the best film I’ve seen using the gimmick. Having seen only three others, however, I’m not so sure that is too bold of a statement.

As far as the acting goes, I think most performances are a bit too over-the-top. I almost wish all the characters were devoid of any likenesses to their real-life counterparts like our lead. It is just too distracting, leading my mind to wander and think of how the cgi person differs from the actor. This is especially true with John Malkovich’s Unferth. They try to make him different enough, but the face is still there and the horrible Danish accent is just too much. The only really good turns, to me, were Ray Winstone, Brendan Gleeson, and Crispin Glover. I would add Robin Wright Penn to the list, but her smooth/taut face didn’t allow for any nuance to go with her voice’s portrayal. Winstone, as Beowulf is the best. With very little likeness, he is allowed to create a full figure. The facial are expressions genuine and moving, especially when he realizes the pact he made with the devil and later on when he puts his life on the line for those he loves. Gleeson is a stalwart of the craft and comes across much like he would if it was really he onscreen, and Glover proves to be a master of elasticity and quirky movement. No one else could have been the stand-in for Grendel.

Artistically, the film is stunning to behold. Everything seems to have been lifted from the story correctly. Jolie’s devil is a disgusting creature only shown as beautiful through the warped minds of men—the use of reflections to show this fact is great. Also, the fact that our original King’s curse of an heir was his shame, manifested by a hideous creature made to hear every word spoken about him through super hearing, and Beowulf’s was his vanity, displayed by an Adonis of an offspring, showed the detail that went into the artistic direction. Unfortunately, while it visually held true to the tale, it might have adhered to the source a bit too much script-wise. It is a morality tale that drives its point home too forcefully, repeating itself often, leaving the audience cold and annoyed. If you want to see this film, do yourself a favor and spend the extra cash on the IMAX-3D experience. Without the visuals to preoccupy you, the film doesn’t quite deliver. Our hero says to his wife, “Don’t remember me as your King or a hero, but instead as a man, fallible and flawed.” He could have said it about the movie itself, but instead of being modest and touching for his character, it is ultimately a derogatory view for the work, something I’m sure the filmmakers hoped would be seen as glorious.

Beowulf 6/10

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photography:
[1] The Viking hero Beowulf (left) confronts the monster Grendel’s seductive mother (right) in “Beowulf.” Photo: Paramount Pictures and Shangri-La Entertainment, LLC. © 2007 by Paramount Pictures and Shangri-La Entertainment, LLC. All Rights Reserved
[2] His desire for the beautiful Queen Wealthow (left) surfaces in one of Beowulf’s dreams in “Beowulf.” Photo: Paramount Pictures and Shangri-La Entertainment, LLC. © 2007 by Paramount Pictures and Shangri-La Entertainment, LLC. All Rights Reserved

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