Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Written by Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary, based on the epic poem Beowulf
Starring: Angelina Jolie, Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins, and Crispin Glover
If you think “Beowulf” looks like another one of those over-the-top epic-action-type movies, well, you’d be right. Not that this is a bad thing. Sure, “Beowulf” has a simplistic plot, negligible amounts of character development, and stilted dialogue, but it is also pretty exciting, visually stunning, and just plain entertaining.
The original story of “Beowulf” was written as an epic poem in the 11th century and is pretty straightforward. Beowulf goes to help old King Hrothgar with the monster Grendel. Beowulf fights Grendel. Beowulf finds out the monster’s got a mother. Beowulf fights mother. Beowulf takes over as king when Hrothgar dies and Beowulf grows old then fights a dragon. Throw in a few court intrigues and a sexified interpretation of Grendel’s mother (played by Angelina Jolie), and you’ve got the film version. The plot is certainly not one of the movie’s strongest points, nor is it meant to be.
The movie doesn’t take itself too seriously, something that is one of its strengths, especially in contrast to some of the other movies of this type that have come out lately. For example, before Beowulf fights with Grendel, he strips himself of his armor — and then his clothes — in order to meet the monster on more equal terms. Apparently, beating the monster bare-handed isn’t enough; it’s got to be bare-everything. But don’t worry; certain “aspects” of Beowulf’s anatomy remain cleverly concealed by a variety of furniture, weapons, and monster limbs. Whether during this unnecessary nudity or his “I AM BEOWULF!!” routine, the writers grant the audience tacit permission to laugh at their stalwart hero. And while Beowulf’s posturing may be absurd and amusing, in action, his strength, fighting skills, and chiseled CG physique still manage to impress.
Speaking of impressive physiques and nudity (whether necessary or not will depend on the viewer), the filmmakers have chosen to envision Grendel’s mother not as grotesque Monster No. 2 but as gorgeous Angelina Jolie. The sight of her rising out of the murky waters of her underground lair like a gothic Venus de Milo, covered in golden water and nothing else, is probably enough to convince a certain segment of the population to go see the movie. However, the change from monster to seductress is more compelling visually than as a plot twist. It makes the story (slightly) more complicated, but the idea and Jolie’s character are not explored enough to make the story any richer. At least it helps tie in the fight with the dragon at the end of the movie to the fight with Grendel at the beginning, one of the problems with the original epic poem.
Yet, as I said before, plot is certainly not the main point of “Beowulf.” The story serves merely as a showcase for the remarkable visual effects and thrilling action scenes. Nowadays, movie technology just keeps getting better and better. Not only have the 3-D glasses been upgraded from flimsy cardboard to a sturdier and more stylish black plastic, the 3-D effects themselves are more stunning than anything I’ve seen before. The audience I saw it with would certainly agree. It would have been annoying to hear them gasping in awe every time a spear hurtled at them from the screen if I wasn’t gasping internally along with them. The filmmakers use a lot of clever shots and some really crazy camera perspectives that take full advantage of the 3-D effects.
In addition, the whole thing is shot in something called “performance capture” in which digital sensors are used to “capture” a live actor’s performance as input into a computer, which can then be further modified. This gives the actors in the movie the grave, stylized look of people in a renaissance painting. Though it cuts down somewhat on the expressive quality of their faces, the slightly surreal look, in combination with the 3-D perspective, suits the mythical nature of the legend.
Overall, “Beowulf” looks very good, and its visual effects alone are probably enough to make it worth seeing (for the portion of the population that isn’t already sold on Angelina). Unless you are drastically opposed to this type of movie, the solid action and beautiful graphics can definitely provide an evening’s worth of entertainment.