Wednesday, November 28, 2007


BeowulfWe went to see Beowulf, the CGI animated version of the old, Anglo-Saxon, epic poem, the other night. It's set during the sixth century in Denmark and is supposedly the oldest surviving piece of English literature. Here's the gist of this version of the tale…
When the hall of King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins) is terrorised by a fearsome monster called Grendel (Crispin Glover), who comes in the night wreaking havoc and murder, he sends out a call for a hero to kill this foul creature and bring peace back to his court.

When the call is answered by Beowulf (Ray Winstone) and his Geats many are thankful for his fame as a hero was widely known but his boasting makes others like Unferth (John Malkovitch) sceptical and jealous.

Of course, Beowulf triumphs over the evil Grendel but Hrothgar has a secret that could lead Beowulf into deeper trouble and things go from bad to worse when Grendel's mother (Angelina Jolie) descends on Hrothgar's hall, seeking vengeance for the slaying of her only son.

I read Beowulf many years ago when still at school and it's one of those stories that has stayed with me all this time. This story doesn't exactly stick to the original text and I thought their interpretation of Grendel as a deformed and grotesque creature didn't sit well with my memory of the story. That aside, it's an entertaining enough movie.

The film is directed by Robert Zemeckis and, with a screenplay co-written by fantasy author Neil Gailman, whose mind this form of Grendel probably came from, and a decent cast of voice talent for the major roles, it turned out better than I'd expected it to. Obviously it'd been better if filmed in live action with some awesome special effects but I expect the budget wouldn't stretch that far and CGI does allow for more control over camera angles and art direction.

The biggest problem I had with it was Ray Winstone as the voice of Beowulf. The man has no talent for changing his accent and he'll always sound like a London gangster no matter what role he plays. Take his classic line "They say you have a monstah. They say your lands are cursed. I am Beowulf, and I will kill your monstah." as an example. Don't get me wrong, I like Ray Winstone as an actor and he's usually pretty entertaining but I just feel he's been miscast for this role.

I suppose the star of the show was Angelina Jolie as she got her kit off, even it was just CGI. Let's face it, if you want to see Angelina naked in a movie these days, then this is probably the best you'll ever get and she was so seductive with it. Anthony Hopkins was excellent as King Hrothgar, but then he almost always is, and John Malkovitch was good as the slimy Unferth. There are a few other reasonably well-known actors such as Brendan Gleeson and Dominic Keating doing some of the voices and they did pretty well too.

As I said above, the movie plot doesn't follow the original text. It introduces a bit more mystery and magic to it by including a curse and there's a dragon as well. There is a dragon featured in the original, just not this one. The quality of the CGI animation is getting better and better and there a re few scenes where you'd be hard pressed to spot that it isn't real. That said, it's still not quite there as far as true-to-life reality goes, even if they did use almost 300 cameras, but it's so much further along than Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within and that was seen as groundbreaking in its time, even if it did bomb at the box office.

Zemeckis also directed the fully CGI movie The Polar Express, which was another poor box office performer, so it's good that he still sees the medium has having some potential as I suspect that once the technology improves even further, especially if they get the facial expressions and eyes more lifelike, we'll see even more movies done in this way. Animation fans will love Beowulf as it's a visual treat, especially once the dragon comes into play, but it's maybe a bit too violent and bawdy for a younger audience.

Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama, Fantasy
My Rating: 7/10

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