Let me start this particular movie review off by saying I’m a big fan of animated movies. I’m an even bigger fan of films starring real, flesh and blood actors and actresses. I am not however, a proponent of the stop-action animation that mixes these two forms of movies together. Apparently, Robert Zemeckis is. One of his previous movies, The Polar Express, used this methodology to, what I felt was, a disastrous result. So although I had been anxiously awaiting Beowulf, I had some mighty concerns on how it was going to play out using this technique.
But I guess a few years of technological advancements (The Polar Express was released in 2004) can make all the difference. The animation in Beowulf looks fantastic. Most of the movement jerkiness that plagued the other movies has been remedied and this format allows for a more seamless and realistic mixture between wholly animated creatures and the digitized actors. It is still a bit creepy looking at real people overlaid with this computer generated imagery (CGI) but it lends itself well to the Dark Ages setting of the movie.
As for the story itself, I don’t think there is any question as to whether or not it would translate well to the big screen. It’s been done previously several times, just not faithfully to the 6th century poem from whence it came (this version takes a few liberties itself). It’s a story about ego and pride and how it can cause the ruin of even the most stalwart of heroes. The hero in this case is obviously, Beowulf (Ray Winstone). He’s arrived on the shores of King Hrothgar’s (Anthony Hopkins) and Queen Wealthow’s (Robin Wright Penn) kingdom with a plan to slay Grendel (voiced by Crispin Glover), a hideous creature that has been wreaking havoc to all on the countryside. But alas all is not what it seems. It turns out there is a nasty little secret surrounding the monster and the kingdom and Beowulf learns of it when he runs into Grendel’s mother (Angelina Jolie). She reveals the truth and makes him an offer only the humblest of men can resist. In doing so, she ensures her stranglehold on the land and on the men who inhabit it.
For an animated piece, I was particularly taken aback by the level of nudity offered up by Beowulf. Jolie, pours on the sexiness. She’s uses a serpentine seductress voice and strips down to her birthday suit. Watching her gracefully slip out of the water dripping gold from her breasts is quite the sight even though she is digitized and muted (I don’t recall seeing nipples). Our hero strips to the buff as well for one of the better fight scenes of the movie, although thankfully his package is creatively obscured (think Austin Powers) throughout.
And speaking of fights, they are well shot, violent and bloody. Each skirmish is captured from multiple angles and many scenes are slowed down to help catch the intensity of the moment. The final fight is grand in nature and in my opinion, is eclipsed only by the ambitious battle sequences in The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
With his latest offering, I believe Zemeckis has hit himself another home run. He’s a great storyteller and deserves a great deal more credit than he has been given (take a look at the movies he’s directed and you’ll be impressed too). Even more impressive is he’s made me a believer in this new animation technique. Beowulf is a movie that deserves to be seen, so get your AD&D friends together for a night out of the basement and check it out.