Set against the coming of Christianity, this is the story of the last hero: in 507, a monstrous troll wreaks havoc in the mead hall of the Danish king, Hrothgar. He offers rewards for the death of Grendel, so Beowulf, a great and boastful Geat warrior, arrives with his thanes. Beowulf sets aside his armor and awaits the monster; a fierce battle ensues that leads to Beowolf's entering the watery lair of Grendel's mother, where a devil's bargain awaits. Beowulf returns to Herot, the castle, and becomes king. Jump ahead many years, and the sins of the father are visited upon Beowulf and his kingdom. The hero must face his weakness and be heroic once again. Is the age of demons over? Written by
Everyone knows the story of Beowulf, one of the oldest poems ever written. So Robert Zemeckis certainly had his work cut out to make a film that was both entertaining for modern audiences and still paid tribute to its original source. Zemeckis deciding to film in Motion- Capture again, after the iffy results of The Polar Express, was another brave move. The film did have me questioning certain aspects beforehand, would the Motion-Capture work? Could it avoid becoming another typical action movie? And why Cockney hardman Ray Winstone as the Swedish hero? Making the whole thing work and pay off would be a huge achievement.
The follows the poem as warrior Beowulf and his men travel to Denmark to rid a kingdom of the monster Grendel. After Beowulf manages to kill the creature, he learns that its mother is still wreaking havoc and goes to her lair in order to kill her. However, once there he makes a bargain with her to become king and bare her 'son' that will have terrible aftereffects. The film deserves massive credit for managing to extend the story without diluting it, something that concerned me prior. The more time means that more characters are developed and become more interesting the longer things go along, especially Beowulf and the Queen. The things involving Grendel and his Mother are great, the older thoughtful Beowulf offers good insight into the man and the climax, with a Dragon, is superb.
The Motion-Capture is a main talking point and, thankfully, it is excellent. There have clearly been developments in the field as the zombie-like expressions have gone and everything is even closer to real life. The characters are brilliantly designed, for example Grendel looks truly monstrous and Beowulf himself is excellently rendered. The characters a look very lifelike and have close similarities to their actors, all except for Beowulf himself. Seeing as he is played by a burly Winstone they make him more athletic looking and he ends up resembling Sean Bean, which sounds strange but works perfectly well.
The details are fantastic, the scenery looks beautiful in all its snow covered glory. A lot of work clearly went into making the backdrop look authentic and it really is visually stunning at times. The use of snow and sunshine looks extremely realistic as they add to the visual spectacle. Certain visual aspects like the injuries and Beowulf's battles are really well stylised, never being too goofy and always looking very effective.
But could Ray Winstone succeed as Beowulf? The answer is a strong yes. In theory the Cockney Winstone shouldn't work. Yet it does, as he possesses excellent charisma and there is an understated intensity to his performance that makes things click. The Cockney accent creeps in at times, such as when he shouts 'I will kill your monstah!', but for the most part he tones it down and does sound like a tough warrior. Here is where Winstone proved that he does have some amount of versatility and he shows he do a great job at the forefront of the film.
The other performances are extremely good. Anthony Hopkins offers his usual hammy turn as the under pressure King, though given the tone of the film this actually works okay and he is entertaining. Brendan Gleeson gives a solid turn as Beowulf's right-hand man, John Malkovich is effective in his backing role and Robin Wright is excellent once again as the sombre queen, showing once more that she is a brilliant actress. Crispin Glover adds touches of sadness and sympathy to the monstrous Grendel. The animation on him looks great and his soft tongue reflects his brutal actions well. Angelina Jolie shows up as the beasts Mother and spends a lot of time with little clothing on. Despite her short appearance she portrays the seductive and cruel creature excellently.
Another hotly discussed aspect is the rating, and I agree with the general view. How the hell did this get a 12 certificate? The violence is truly brutal. We actually see Grendel ripping people in half, blood pouring out of wounds and arms being sliced clean off. Not to mention that there are a lot of sexual references and some very scary moments. Just because it isn't real-life doesn't tone it down. I do enjoy the viciousness as its ads to the films impact, but the rating is just wrong.
The action scenes are impressive, as I've alluded to. Beowulf's battle with Grendel is intense and has some pounding action, even if him fighting in the bluff is a bit distracting. The climax involving a dragon is excellent, containing plenty of pulsating action and edge of your set thrills. Even the drama hits the right spot, the scenes of the older Beowulf and the focus on the Queen leads to a lot of interesting moments. Elsewhere regular Zemeckis collaborator Alan Silvestri delivers the goods again with another top notch score, it has the right amount of intensity and melancholy to fit the film.
I'm actually happy that Beowulf passed my expectations. It answered concerns over expanding the story and the idea of Ray Winstone as the man exceptionally. Some may question why the film wasn't just shot in live action, but I think that the Motion-Capture adds to the films uniqueness and does allow for many wonderful visual moments. The film itself does show that Motion-Capture can add a lot to a film instead of taking away from it. Don't be expecting a perfect adaption because it's not that type of film. The acting is excellent, the action sequences are thrilling and the visuals are truly something to behold. It is a thoroughly entertaining film.
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