PLOT: A kingdom besieged by a monster is in need of a hero. And after a particularly vicious battle, a hero finally comes. He offers to kill the monster, yet only finds he has angered the beasts mother with his actions. And as a mother would do, she exacts her revenge on those who crucified her child. But her revenge is much more powerful than any sword or weapon could produce. She preys on mans ability to lie, to find cowardice or to give in to lust. It’s a 700 AD poem brought to life through “performance capture”.
Robert Zemeckis has always had a gift for the fantastic. From BACK TO THE FUTURE to THE POLAR EXPRESS, the later of which used the format called performance capture. And he continues his use with this style of filmmaking with his latest film BEOWULF. Any kid will probably tell you they had to read this in their Junior High School years. The story of a hero who saves this kingdom from a monster. But when the mother of the monster still lives to seek revenge, she finds it in the simple act of mans faults. Her revenge is to use humanity to watch a hero fall. “Beowulf” is an Old English poem from around 700 AD that has lived on for centuries. A simple story of greed, lust and all those things that make man human and prone to tragedy and bad choices. Much like Shakespeare, it has been done in the past, but Zemeckis is able to inject life into this old tale that is as relevant now as it was then in an odd sort of way.
In this current adaptation, Zemeckis bring Beowulf to life courtesy of some damn fine animation and a wonderful performance from Ray Winstone. Although very little of Ray is what you see on screen, it is his powerful voice and Adonis physique that create a fascinating character. When he faces the monster Grendel (Crispin Glover), he is naked and weaponless. He offers up only his brute strength to fight this monster that has murdered many. Even the cleverly placed swords and elbows hiding Beowulf’s little wolf add a sort of cleverness to the fight. It is an intense scene that recreates the literary history quite well. As does the rest of the film, from his actions with the Grendel’s mother (Angelina Jolie) to a final battle with a monstrous dragon.
While I did find BEOWULF to be an entertaining film, I also felt the “video game” look was a bit distracting. The images are incredibly clear, and many times the “actors” look absolutely amazing (Angelina Jolie anyone?), yet it kept me at a distance as a viewer. A few of the characters appearance bothered me heavily, including Wealthow (Robin Wright-Penn) who just looked bland. Yet Robin gives one of the most impressive performances aside from Ray. Her role as wife to the men who face Grendel and his mother could have been a throwaway role. But she is able to bring it to life with her beautifully voiced work. Yet the real strength of the film that truly kept me involved is the magnificence of IMAX in 3D. Yes, the look was really astounding as we would be faced with all the imagery right in front of your eyes. In fact, I think that if I had not seen the film in 3D, it would not have been as terrific as if could have been.
As for the other actors, all of them do good work including Anthony Hopkins, John Malkovich and especially Crispin Glover who worked with howls and screams as Grendel. I found myself having more sympathy for him than anyone else in the film. This is a monster who suffers with a disgusting growth that protrudes out of his ear. Whenever the kingdom celebrates in reverie and cheer, the poor mutated being suffers with their noise that makes his life a living hell. What else is a creature supposed to do besides rip a few unfortunate souls apart to get them to shut up. Although this is probably not a good way to deal with loud neighbors in general, so don’t try this at home. But this monster seemed to be in many ways, the most human character in the film. His love for his mother and his agonizing pain was very well explored with his grotesque look and Crispin’s impressive voicework.
Still, as a movie without the cool 3D effects, I don’t think it is as powerful as it could have been. I seldom felt very emotionally invested here because even though the animation was great, it still felt like I was playing an X-Box 360 on a really big screen. I also saw 300 in IMAX, but not in 3D and I felt more connected to that story, the comic book tone of the film was not distracting at all. But here, sometimes the characters looked like they were coming off the screen, but still felt cold and lifeless. It might just be my reaction to performance capture that didn’t fully engulf me in the film. But that said, it is still a very entertaining watch with a much better than it could have been script with credit going to Roger Avary and Neil Gaiman. I almost think it would have been brilliant with doing most of the film live action and only the roles of Beowulf and Grendel done in the chosen style. Winstone and Glover were terrific as they were, so as far as their performance as a whole, I wouldn’t have changed a thing. So as an IMAX, 3D experience, I would give this movie a higher rating then a 7, but as the film in whole apart from IMAX, it’s not quite as fantastic as it could have been. My rating 7/10 -- JimmyO
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