Film review: Beowulf 3D



You don’t go into the latest 3D animation spectacular with very high expectations for scriptwriting and direction, but I must say I was pleasantly surprised with Beowulf. While for the most part it’s the usual CGI bluff and bluster, there are a few moments here actually that make an emotional impact, and perhaps remind us that we really are in the early days when it comes to this kind of film-making, and that anything may happen yet. For the first time I could see that fully motion-captured acting and animation really does have potential.

The first surprise was a lovely long, long pull-back from the Danish mead hall that is the centre of the action back into the countryside. Not only is the shot almost meditative in its length, but the director was smart enough to let the sound design do the work without cluttering up the atmosphere with music–the result is a truly stunning shot.
There are a few other moments nearly as good, but most of Beowulf is taken up with rollicking violent action, and it’s hard not to think that 10th century storytellers of the original Old English epic poem might have approved, before generations of tweed-coated bespectacled Oxford linguistic professors made it all worthy and boring. This is the kind of special effects bash that would have gone down well around the fire after a hard day’s pillaging.

Of course, writers Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary and director Robert Zemeckis have their way with the original poem and add several plotlines and motivations. The story is simple, with a cautionary edge that makes it a little interesting, and the famous Grendel is written as a sympathetic murdering psychotic monster instead of just a murdering psychotic monster. The film certainly feels more like a modern graphic novel that a timeless epic classic, which perhaps is a lost opportunity, but understandable.

The actors do a good job with their motion-capture work, though Windstone’s tough-guy London accent can get grating, especially when mixed with the hodge-podge of other accents that echo about this Danish melieu. Angelina Jolie is suitably seductive as Grendel’s mother, Anthony Hopkins has a great time playing the sodden King Hrothgar, and John Malkovitch, as usual, plays John Malkovich.

Despite exploring adult themes, the animation is hilariously coy in order to get the film’s PG-13 rating, often with the result of jarring you out of suspended disbelief. The convenient placing of mugs and candlesticks when Beowulf fights naked is unintentionally hilarious, and Grendel’s mother seducing Beowulf when she doesn’t even seem to have nipples, let alone working genitalia, takes the sexual tension right out of the whole exercise. It’s a shame they had to pander to the censors in this way.

On the whole however, I found Beowulf a fun ride. Make sure you see it in 3D for all the diving-straight-into-the-camera fun. You even get a bit of good scriptwriting and direction thrown in among all the action.

Three-and-a-half severed limbs out of five.

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Atlas Cerise
    Feb 13, 2008 @ 11:11:24

    I saw Robert Zemeckis and CG, and I remembered The Polar Express. And I quickly forgot about Beowulf.

  2. Universal Head
    Feb 13, 2008 @ 11:49:37

    Well – but you have to give a guy credit for being on the cutting edge of technology. Most reviews reckon Beowulf as being streets ahead of Polar Express, which was a bit of failure all round I heard (I haven’t seen it).

  3. anaglyph
    Feb 14, 2008 @ 12:21:39

    >>The convenient placing of mugs and candlesticks when Beowulf fights naked is unintentionally hilarious
    Unintentionally? I don’t think so. You don’t storyboard up a whole sequence like this and not realise that it’s funny. I think they knew exactly what the effect would be. The shot with the upturned sword? Ha! That’s never an accident. And if they just wanted to be coy, they could easily have done that by judicious cutting.
    On the whole I thought Beowulf was pretty good. The dragon fight at the end is very well choreographed, and the story was passable.
    As you say, kudos for Zemeckis for toughing it out. It’s a sizeable improvement over Polar Express, and it’s only the big guys like him who have the clout to get this kind of show up & running. I’m staying tuned for A Christmas Carol

  4. Universal Head
    Feb 14, 2008 @ 12:54:47

    Yeah, you’re right – though my main point is that it jarred badly with the danger and tension of the fight scene.
    And then, the lack of nipples etc on Grendel’s mother wasn’t funny – just silly.