ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday March 3, 2008
Vol. 42 - No 40

Visually appealing - Film Review

Beowulf (2007)
Cast: Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins, Angelina Jolie, Brendan Gleeson, Robin Wright Penn and John Malkovich
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Running Time: 115 minutes.

The film revolves around the story of the Danish Hero, Beowulf, (Ray Winstone) who is portrayed as a flawed and egoistic bounty hunter in an unconventional retelling of the Old English epic poem of the same title.

While the epic portrayed Beowulf as a largely one-dimensional or if you like stereotypical hero, the film, with the help of screenwriters Roger Avary and Neil Gaiman, takes its own path down quite a treacherous road where age old stories would be twisted and beloved characters would be tarnished. And by God did the heads role.

The altered story sees Anthony Hopkins playing King Hrothgar whose people are plagued by the creature Grendel and later his mother (Jolie) as Hrothgar hires Beowulf to slay the beast. Beowulf defeats Grendel but falls victim to his mother's seductions and pays a heavy price in his ensuing years as King.

The plotline in the film enraged many lovers of the epic poem but one may go as far as to argue that the essence of the old folktale was not tampered with, beyond artistic license.

However with Avary known for his mastery with Pulp Fiction and Gaiman already a cult favorite with his Sandman graphic novels (which I had the privilege of reading in parts), I expected so much more with the potential that the base material put on offer. Instead I was left with a screenplay that seemed out of place (considering the story was based in 500 A.D) and the plot which was blown out of proportion to quite epic heights.

The movie followed the lines of the 2005 film featuring Gerard Butler named Beowulf and Grendel as far as the monster Grendel (Crispin Glover) is concerned. While the entire opening scene looks like a digital representation of the exact sequence in the 2005 flick, the monster Grendel (who is a truly villainous creature in the poem) is depicted as a disfigured and misunderstood creature that is tormented by the debaucheries and noise of the neighboring humans on which he extracts the due revenge.

For a movie industry which thrives on transformations (of old tales or actors themselves) and an audience which is seemingly intolerant of basic retellings of known stories, Beowulf needed to bring something fresh to the table. And it was quite successful in doing that, considering the fact that the entire film was produced using the motion capture techniques that Zemeckis himself helped to develop in his previous work The Polar Express.

So…no real moving actors, no sets, no killing of animals, more exaggerated action sequences which are not humanely possible and more importantly identical digital look-alikes of the actors which would have the audience going "Oooh that's Angelina Jolie!"

At least for a little while. But seeing that the visuals were not enough to take on the fussy modern-day audience, the story was altered beyond recognition which left an over-the-top plotline, an awful amount of unanswered questions and the sickening premonition of a sequel.

Thankfully though, the film wasn't all Hollywood garbs. Robert Zemeckis does have the talent to direct as he proved in Forest Gump. Zemeckis ensures the viewer that the characters portrayed in Beowulf are not the usual puppet type, emotionless faces seen on most of the previous movies of its kind.

Great detail has been put into the facial expressions of the characters which are enough to almost convince the hardest hitting critics that they are watching living actors on the screen.

Suffice to say the visual elements of the film are beyond anything I have ever witnessed before with this type of film. Zemeckis along with the screenwriters also put a lot of thought into the characterization of Beowulf himself who is converted into a flawed character who hungers for glory and thrives on basking in his own masculinity. The glaring similarities between Beowulf and Achilles in Wolfgang Petersen's Troy may suggest that Zemeckis would not have been thinking for too long. Still, I did appreciate the altered Beowulf more than I did Gerard Butler's hopeless character in Beowulf and Grendel.

Despite the film's average screenplay and unwarranted complications in the plotline, it still was a rollercoaster ride in the end. Though the film didn't find any Oscar love, the visually appealing battle sequences, the enthralling facial characteristics of the digital recreations of its actors and special mention (and thanks) to the digital version of nude Angelina Jolie (which was the only way we didn't see her naked) the film was definitely an entertaining film to watch.

You may even watch the movie with your ears closed and appreciate its value as far as the breakthroughs in motion capture are concerned. Even Gollum would be jealous.

Your comments are welcome at

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