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Pretty much everyone knows the story of Beowulf - man fights monster,
monster's mum and then a dragon - but this ancient story has inspired
generations of writers and academics, now it gets a shiny makeover
courtesy of Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary.
Beowulf (the man) could have been written as a cookie-cutter hero, but fortunately he's something else - fallible and not yet the hero he must become later in the movie. But (and this is really hard without spoiling the movie), the battle that turns him into a hero also leads inexorably to his undoing. That's something the two writers have brought to the millennia old text and it works perfectly to help fill in some of the gaps in the original poem and provide a back story to events.
A special mention also to Crispin Glover's Grendel. I wasn't particularly struck with the physical realisation of the monster, but the performance is knock out. Instead of just being a rampaging beast, Grendel is almost something to be pitied - a misshapen outcast with noisy neighbours, and his final scene is remarkably touching. Oh and if you don't understand Grendel, you clearly haven't been keeping up with your Old English classes!
But let's be honest, everyone watches a movie about Vikings for the action. And Beowulf delivers this in spades. Here comes my first proviso - Beowulf in the UK is getting a 12A rating, but there is no way I would take a 12 year old to see this film in all its eye-ball spearing, spine-snapping, ligament-tearing glory. This movie would get a higher rating had it been shot in real-life and it's worth considering this before packing the kids into the car. Mostly the violence is justified, but it is there and it's NOT cartoony.
The animation is the talking point of this movie, and its a real step on from the zombified performance of 'Polar Express'. The impression of living, breathing flesh is almost complete with the exception of strangely dead eyes - this movie is a landmark in computer imagery. The majority of the characters are stunningly rendered (Beowulf in particular) in close up, but they somehow look less convincing at a distance. Generally the men are better done than the women, with Queen Wealthow the spitting image of Julie Andrew's queen in Shrek 2.
So, its a violent special effects triumph - could anything be wrong?
Two things. One - the accents. Oh dear god in heaven above what were they thinking - this is a treasure house of appalling voices, Irish(ish), Scottish(ish), Welsh(ish) are all thrown into the mix, but the standout horrors are Jon Malkovich's take on Danish which might have been inspired by the Muppets and Angelina Jolie dusting off her accent from 'Alexander'.
The second is the 3D projection. For reasons best known to studio executives we're all meant to get very excited by 3D all over again. Beowulf is one of the first movies to be released in the UK using REALD - a system familiar to anyone who has been to a Disney park in the last 20 years. The animators of Beowulf clearly had great fun working out new ways of making things jump out of the screen at the audience, but the effect becomes slightly wearisome after a minute or two. Fortunately things settle down later in the movie and the makers stop trying to show off their new technology.
More disappointing, the poor quality of the Polaroid glasses you have to wear make the image slightly blurry and spoilt by reflections. After years waiting for the crystal clarity of digital projection, the whole thing has been undone by a gimmick. If you have a choice, you might be better off seeing a regular 2D version.
A final comment, Beowulf spends part of the movie naked, bet you can't watch it and not think of Austin Powers.
Just this minute got back from seeing a free preview of Beowulf and OH
MY GOD! This is a cracking film and I highly recommend everyone goes to
the cinema to see it (it's a cinema experience for sure!). Not only
that, but it's 3D (which I wasn't aware of) or rather the all new 3D
(no more red/green glasses). Everyone in the audience was given what
looked like cheap-ass shades, but they did the job wonderfully and
fitted snugly over my regular specs.
As for the movie, the plot was tight and well scripted, the voice acting was great (Ray Winstone rocks), the action was breathtaking, some of the CGI was unbelievably gorgeous and the music and incidental sound was great! The only downside for me was some of the CGI. It seemed apparent that given an unlimited budget, this movie would have looked phenomenal in every scene, but unfortunately the budget wasn't unlimited and it shows in a number of places. Nothing looks horrible, but you can tell that they had to pick and choose where to go for high detail. The movie also suffers from the age old, it's creepy because it's almost perfect.
As for the 3D, apart from an awesome intro, nothing seems to be done just to exploit 3D, it's all very natural and adds an amazing level of detail to the movie. The depth of vision you get is truly breathtaking in parts.
Quite honestly I wasn't expecting much from this movie having seen the trailer, but I was blown away. I've not been this excited leaving the cinema in a long long time!
When going into the theatre to see this I in two minds - it was my
first 3D movie and I had heard good things, however I wasn't
particularly taken by the concept or the trailers. I was unsure what to
expect, however I ended up leaving the cinema extremely satisfied with
the film, and tellingly, unable to stop discussing it long after the
Visually it is an absolute treat, Zemeckis uses 3D superbly, some of the camera angles and sequences are as great an art as the photo-realistic animation. Occasionally the odd shot appears where the impression is that it was set up solely to emphasise the 3D (e.g. starting at the end of a branch and panning out) and whilst this doesn't add to the film it is actually a pleasant reminder of the novelty of 3D.
There are only two areas that let Beowulf down aesthetically: the eyes and the mouth. The eyes were static throughout and it is the little details that make the difference when trying to make something as uber-realistic as this, such as the fact that the pupils didn't react to light. As for the lips - they're just not quite there yet - sometimes the speech didn't seem to be quite right.
The characters are expertly introduced and developed, most notably Anthony Hopkins character, Hrothgar and the tension between his wife. Grendell and his mother are wonderfully creepy and seductive, and bizarrely enough almost encourage sympathy.
For me the most disappointing part of the film was actually Ray Winstone as the titular character - he was fantastic when talking in a low growl, however the film really suffers when he shouts in full cockney accent. "I will kill your monstah!". I half expected Grendell's head to be smashed between a car and it's door. John Malkovitch is a saving grace with his none-more-sinister voice and interesting faith sub-plot.
The rating for this film has been hotly discussed and in my opinion I do not think it is suitable for children under the age of 12. Grendell would have truly terrified me as a child. The violence, as well as bawdiness, does not make it a family film for young children although having said that the lewd references do provide good humour and balances out the movie.
So, overall, this was worthy of an 8. Breathtaking animation, incredible action (especially the finale featuring an excellent dragon) and a generally brilliant cast. Beowulf throws down the gauntlet to film-makers to show what can be done with 3D and is an indication of the potential. It's not all the way there yet, but it's a damn good start.
This movie is a lot of fun. In 3D. I suspect its impact will be
considerably diminished in 2D, so I urge anyone who wants to see it to
seek out the 3D version. There are lots of beautifully constructed
tracking shots where the camera glides and swirls forward, back up and
down, and trees, rocks, arrows, dragons or whatever slip past the edges
of the frame, and this effect is stunning in 3D. In fact, all the
action scenes are stunning in 3D, particularly the climactic battle
with a top-notch, fire belching monster of a dragon.
The plot isn't much to write home about (although there's just a hint of a theological debate about the way Christianity has displaced the old mythic religions, which made me think for about 5 seconds). The acting is variable - Robin Wright-Penn is fine, but about as sexy as a paper cup, Hopkins is his usual reliable self, Ray Winstone is suitably heroic as the heroic, self-aggrandising Beowulf, and Crispin Glover is just brilliant as Grendel. Grendel is a lovely creation, oozing slime and blood, and wracked with pain.
But who cares about all that. This is not a scholarly work, it's entertainment. And my wife and I were as royally entertained as the kids surrounding us in the cinema (and we're both 40-somethings). Leave your serious head (and any timid youngsters) at home, and go and have fun.
I didn't expect a lot from 'Beowulf', for lots of reasons, most of
which were to do with the casting: incorrigibly cockney Ray Winstone as
a warrior from what's now southern Sweden; wacky John Malkovich as a
cynical counselor; loony Crispin Glover as a flesh-rending monster, and
weirdest of all, Angelina Jolie as the monster's mother...thaet waes
wundorlic castyng, as the poet might have put it. Then there was the
way they did the whole thing in CGI, running the risk of making it all
look a bit rubbery. Finally, Robert Zemeckis is the director and my
great respect for him plummeted through the floor and into the
crawlspace after he presided over the insufferable 'Forrest Gump'.
Nevertheless, this is a lot better than I thought it would be. I missed the 3D incarnation as we were watching the DVD rather than the cinema release, but after a while you stop looking at the CGI and start enjoying it. This is a 'Beowulf' where the story, although different from the poem, is actually very far from shabby.
Without giving too much away, the main difference from the poem is that in the poem, there is no connection between the monster Grendel and his mother on one hand, and the dragon in the latter half of the poem on the other hand. In the film, a connection exists. Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary do a professional job of tying it all together in a satisfying Hollywood way, without betraying the basic darkness and sadness of the story; it's not like Beowulf rides off into the sunset with Wiglaf at the end. Crispin Glover is genuinely scary as the tormented and raw-boned Grendel, whose main problem is that he just can't stand the sound of people having fun, although since most of this fun consists of hairy men singing lewd songs you can see his point. Angelina Jolie's animated self spends all her on screen time walking around without any clothes on, something that apparently gave Jolie a blush when she saw a cut of the movie. (One of the more eerie things about this film is that the cartoon Angelina Jolie looks marginally more realistic than the actress herself.)
Despite an accent that's more Stockwell than Geatland, Ray Winstone does a fine, sombre job as the hero, although my wife thought that the animated Winstone looked more like Sean Bean. Brendan Gleeson does a splendid job in the niche he's carved for himself of Hairy Sidekick. The acting honours, or at least the animation honours, go to Robin Wright Penn (or whoever worked on her character) as the pale and melancholy queen; she has moments of subtle hesitation and sadness that struck me as a triumph of CGI acting.
There is much excellent smiting, some of it unfortunately toned down a little in order to keep a PG-13 rating - so we don't actually get to see Grendel biting men's heads off, just people's reactions to him doing so. Most importantly, the story is not a travesty of the original. It's thoughtful and interesting, as you'd expect from a writer of Gaiman's quality (if not from the author of 'Killing Zoe') and contains some striking meditations on the power of legend and reputation. Plus, there's a really huge kick-ass dragon. 'Beowulf' is a strange and unexpected treat.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This film has impressive special effects and would be okay as an
adventure fantasy but it should not be marketed as the epic poem.Also
it has been given the wrong rating and should be an R. Why all the
changes? Grendel's mother was not a gold painted,nude,Barbie doll in
stiletto heels.Grendel was not Hrothgar's son. Beowulf killed the witch
he did not have sex with her.The dragon was not Beowulf's son and had
no connection with the witch.Beowulf was not made Hrothgar's heir,nor
did he marry his widow and become king of the Danes.In the poem Beowulf
returned to Geatland after slaying Grendel. He remained the Geat king's
best warrior,supporting him and the son who succeeded him. Only after
the new king died did Beowulf become king of the Geats until his own
death in later years.Also, why all the nudity in this film? This was
Scandinavian northern Europe in the Dark Ages - folk would have Bean in
furs and heavy woollens most of the time.The cartoon-like actors didn't
help either with bland faces and expressionless eyes.
A far better movie 'Beowulf and Grendel' was made in 2004,filmed on location in Iceland,with an excellent cast of real actors and no CGI. The Iceland born Canadian director,Sturla Gunnarson,tried to get back to what could have been the original story that evolved over the centuries into the legend.It was gritty,made on a shoestring and had only limited cinema release,but thankfully it is available on DVD and is well worth a look.There is also an excellent companion DVD documentary called 'Wrath of Gods'which tells the incredible story of the filming of the movie, and the struggle to complete it with financial problems and the absolute hell of shooting it at the start of the Icelandic winter.
The new 'Beowulf' has also tried to ride on the coattails of '300', but again it suffers by not having real actors showing their courage and emotions.'300' scenes were like paintings come to life and the Spartans' impressive physiques and fighting skills were real,after hard training,with no computer enhancement.
An interesting point is the actor who links these three films - charismatic Gerard Butler.He was fiery yet also sensitive as King Leonidas and the earlier Beowulf and made the roles his own.
This 2007 film is a missed opportunity to bring the epic poem to life.
I have read Beowulf a couple of times. It's great northern European
mythology, and mandatory reading when you are young in my opinion
(Along with Norse, Greek and Roman Mythology as well). And though the
movie wants to re-write some of the epic, you will need to separate the
Hollywood version from the beautiful measure of the original works.
Being a work of CGI, you will also have to allow for the flaws of pure
CGI work. Very stylized and beautifully colored, it is an epic
adventure that elevated Zemeckis' previous work "The Polar Express" to
a new level. Polar was beautifully modeled after Chris Van Allsburg
illustrations for his book, but Zemeckis' adaptation to the story went
a little over the top when it became a musical. Even though most of
Beowulf's story line is answered here, it did make me pause and wonder:
Why didn't Robert Zemeckis just direct this thing in real life instead of virtual?
With the capabilities of dropping in CGI into real life action, this telling of the story could have had so much more of an impact if the expressions were more poignant. Look what he did with "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?"? Zemeckis is fully capable of it. Also, to add to this, when you have CGI characters like Jacksons Gollum and King Kong to compare notes with, the modeling here just isn't up to snuff. I felt the entire movie came off like a gigantic "cut-scene" to a video game than a full featured animated project. I can only give this a little better than a good, hence the exclamation. I do this sadly. You really should see this in a theater, bigger than life. The dragon is excellent, the ugly v/s the beautiful is wild, the sequencing is uneven, though at the end it takes you on a great ride. Oh, and for you people that want to go see Angela Jolie nekkid? IT'S CGI!!! I've seen harder stuff on Fox networks! Seeing my wife and I saw this as a matinée, the crowd was on the sparse side and there was literally no kids present. I couldn't get a solid feeling from the audience though most people as they left seemed genuinely happy with their experience. I'm sure it was PG13'd because of the sequences with Angela, otherwise it would be a solid PG. I wouldn't suggest this for a kid under 8.
It seems we have a new cinematic fad coming into fashion... the genre
of mythological action. It began with '300' (a film I really enjoyed),
and the first that stands to benefit from 300's success is Beowulf.
Beowulf is the newest film from Robert Zemeckis. Zemeckis implements
many of the same visual themes of his last project, the heart warming
Polar Express, with varied success.
Beowulf tells the story of the kingdom of King Hrothgar (a delightfully campy Anthony Hopkins)which is currently being terrorized by a monster named Grendel (Crispin Glover). Help comes in the form of mighty Beowulf (Ray Winstone), who arrives with an army of 14 men and his right hand man, Wiglaf (Brendan Gleeson). It his his job to slay the monster. However, he must also deal with Grendel's mother (Angelina Jolie). Beowulf is opposed by Unferth (John Malkovich), and has also been paying close attention to the king's wife, Wealthow (Robin Wright Penn).
Perhaps the most surprising element of the film is its sly, wink and a nod, sense of humor. This can be viewed two ways. The first view is one of enjoyment and laughter. However, it is hard to comply when we are asked to feel or identify with these characters after so many scenes presenting them as mere caricatures.
As expected, Beowulf is visually stunning. I'd argue it is the one category where this film bests 'Polar Express'. The 3-D photography is shockingly good. It is a film I wouldn't want to imagine in the traditional two dimension format. I strongly advise anyone who is going to see this to view the film in 3-D. Without it, the film would be borderline un enjoyable. The highlight is by far the final battle scene,which just begs you to forget the film's past misdeeds. Close, but no dice.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Take a thousand year old heroic subject matter, spice it up with a dose
of modern" morals such as men's only weakness is women" , add a few
females according to type e.g. saints and whores and shoot this
script as a CGI-mix of Shrek", 300" and popular computer-games: The
result is Robert Zemecki's version of Beowulf". Works alright, the
flick, as long as you don't take it seriously. However, whenever the
Shrek"-Elements dominate the scene, the film runs into problems. Queen
Wealtheow for instance fatally resembles the green Oger's mom. Besides,
almost all Characters have a squint that would make Christopher Lambert
at his best look good. Wet hair is still a problem of
computer-graphics, too. Otherwise, the film is technically well made
and gives you an idea how far Ralph Bakshi might have gone with his
concept of graphically alienated live-action.
Still, over long stretches the motion-capture-technique is too reminiscent of computer-games to be convincing, and thus one is left with the question which audience this film is aimed at. Gaming kiddies can't watch it because all the ripping and tearing is far too bloody; adult Lord-of-the-Rings-fans will miss the depth of the original poem, despite some nice touches in the script such as King Hrothgar talking of Scops" or giving out rings to his thanes in the initial sequence, or Grendel and his mother seeming to talk Anglo-Saxonish. The linguistic climax of the movie is elsewhere, anyway: King Hrothgar, embodied (well, sort of) by Anthony Hopkins, telling his followers that Beowulf killed the monster and laid his mother... in her grave". How do you translate that for synchronized versions? This sequence gets to the heart of the difference of plot between the script and the heroic poem, i.e. the introduction of the eternal female temptation as motif for the hero's curse. Not a bad idea, really, especially in view of the traditional sword-penis-symbolism that is being exploited thoroughly in this film. Unfortunately, the way they put the idea on screen is cheesy to say the least. Thus Angelina Jolie's computerized curves seem designed to lure the average movie-goer, male, mid-twenties, meager intellect (is that according to statistics?). The hero Beowulf (one can't speak of actors or characters in this film) is modeled on the Gladiator but lacks his character; the monster is a crossbreed of Ent and skinned Gollum; the jokes are laconic (example: "How is your father? Dead."). Amusing and once in a while appealing in a darkly beautiful manner, especially when a whiff of northern Epic or landscape transcends the CGI. In these moments one gets an inkling of what might have been done with this script. Even the final fight with the dragon is impressive. But why does the dragon have a heart, small as a cow's? Why does the coast-guard sit in front of his fire in the pouring rain? And why does the final, unbearably long shot have to be so unbearably kitsch? Shame, really. You can either have grim realism, or you can have exaggerated, bad-taste fantasy. Try to amalgamate both, and the thing falls apart.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Short answer: If you love the old Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf, do not see
this movie. You will be nauseated.
Longer answer: In the Dungeons and Dragons community, there is an old joke that the characters "kill things and take their stuff." Well, Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary managed to kill Beowulf and take his stuff. Then they proceeded to kill Hrothgar, the helm of the Shieldings and take his stuff. Then they killed Grendel and took its stuff. Then, they killed Wealtheow and took her stuff. And so on, and so forth. These two imbeciles with Underwoods (an orangutan could have come up with a more sensitive treatment of one of the seminal pieces of English literature!) completely changed the tone of the poem from a serious heroic epic to just another post-modern round of "no more heroes" buffoonery.
The literary atrocities of Messers Gaiman and Avary upon the source material are as follows: 1. The poem has been dechristianized: On the one hand, it does take out a glaring anachronism (the action of the poem takes place during the Migration Period of the AD 400s-500s, when they would still be following the traditions of the Aesir religion, but the poem was written down in a very Christianized context in England, and the anachronism does add a richness to the language) The only sop to the underpinnings of the source material come in a discussion between two urinating Danes over the relative merits of Christianity and Aesir-worship, and later when Unferth suggests praying to Christ as well as Odin, a suggestion that Hrothgar rejects out of hand (perhaps a reference to the opposite situation in the poem, where the Danes throw off Christianity for a time, hoping that the old gods will smite Grendel where the Christian ones had apparently failed).
2. It is implied very heavily that Beowulf was a liar and braggart in his earlier exploits, including the race with Breca: As with many of the other changes, it seems to be part of a deliberate campaign by Gaiman and Avary to strip away the heroic nature of the source material, turning Beowulf into just another trendy 21st-century flawed anti-hero.
3. The characters often speak with a much more modern speech pattern (see, for instance, Unferth's first confrontation with Beowulf, where he comes off as much more smarmy than in the poem) that is jarring to the ear and that often seems to lead, yet again, into Gaiman and Avary's unspoken goal of de-heroizing, de-mythologizing, and de-bunking the poem.
4. Beowulf does not kill Grendel's Mother: In the poem, it's reported as fact that Beowulf kills her after a ferocious struggle. Nowhere in the poem does it suggest that she seduces him and he lies about killing her. Again, it's the old song of "everything you know is false -- there are no true heroes." 5. Beowulf fighting in the nude: Beowulf does forswear the use of arms in fighting Grendel, but nowhere does it say that he would fight the monster in the all-together, tackle-out (with only strategically-placed objects protecting his modesty). In fighting with Grendel's Mother, it is explicitly stated that he is wearing chain-mail armor and that that saves his life. I'm giving a pass to her appearance, as it's never stated exactly what either she or Grendel actually were supposed to look like.
6. Hrothgar is almost explicitly stated to be Grendel's father: No, no, NO! Nowhere in the poem was any mention of Grendel's father made, least of all it being Hrothgar, whom Grendel's Mother would not have been able to have "known" anyway, as he was a consecrated king, and it is implied that Cain's kin could not go near signs of rightful royalty. (Cain, the first murderer, who is claimed to be the ancestor of Grendel's kind, not "Cain," the not-appearing-in-the-poem whipping boy of Unferth's, that is.) 7. Hrothgar and Wealtheow have no issue, because Wealtheow will not sleep with Hrothgar due to his sleeping with Grendel's Mother, and the subsequent romantic subtext between her and Beowulf: Wrong again. Leaving behind the fact that Wealtheow probably was not as nubile in the poem as in the movie and showed no romantic interest in Beowulf whatsoever, she and Hrothgar had two sons, and as mentioned before Hrothgar had not slept with Grendel's Mother.
8. Hrothgar gives his kingdom over to Beowulf and then commits suicide by jumping off the tower of Heorot: At this point, I walked out of the theater and demanded my money back, as the movie had officially jumped the shark with no hopes of return.
In short, the movie was little more than a parody, a lampoon on a great epic.
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