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Awesome: 21.54%
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6 reviews, 29 user ratings

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Beowulf (2007)
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by Erik Childress

"Take The Class That Teaches THIS Beowulf"
5 stars

I was well aware of Woody Allen’s warning to never “take any class where you have to read Beowulf” when we were assigned portions of it in high school English. A chore to read indeed. If only there was a movie version of it. Since no one had taken the bait up to that point, friends and myself did our own; an unfinished eight minutes worth of footage that I’m sure all participants involved would also like to adopt the moniker of Anonymous. The sad fact is that in the years following, adaptations of the epic poem with Gerard Butler taking on a human version of the monster Grendel and a futuristic take featuring the Highlander himself, Christopher Lambert, have made our Driscoll Catholic production as the preeminent cinematic experience (on video.) Thankfully, the universe of quality control has balanced the scales once again with Robert Zemeckis not just giving English classes across America new interpretations to discuss but advancing the technological limitations of animation to a level that makes high-definition look like a Falkirk Transmitter.

For those fortunate enough to have avoided the studies or who couldn’t make heads or tails of the Old English, Beowulf is known as one of the surviving pieces of Anglo-Saxon literature, dated around the time of 700 A.D. It centers around its near-mythical hero and the various battles of his lifetime with the monsters that plague a Danish countryside. The first of these monsters is the scarred and deformed Grendel (inspiredly voiced by Crispin Glover), a giant whose sensitive hearing brings him to attack the celebratory Danes led by King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins), who is one of the few spared from the monster’s wrath. After the vicious slaughter, the King awaits for “a hero” to arrive to save them from this curse brought upon the land. In from the sea comes Beowulf (Ray Winstone) with a small army of Geats including the loyal Wiglaf (Brendan Gleeson, doppelganging his Braveheart compatriot).

Beowulf’s reputation certainly precedes him, a fact the warrior is all too happy to expand upon in Munchausian detail when challenged by Hrothgar’s cowardly general, Unferth (John Malkovich). For his service the King offers Beowulf his most prized possession, a golden horn that the hero covets almost as much as the young Queen Wealthow (Robin Wright Penn). Grendel is not the only enemy lurking out there in the caves though. His mother (Angelina Jolie) is a shapeshifting water demon who watches over the childlike tendencies of her horrific son and carries with her a few secrets about his origin. While one monster of brawn and violence is an opponent Beowulf is equipped to take on, the historical context of Beowulf’s song will face Liberty Valance proportions when he is challenged by the temptations offered by the devilish matriarch.

The lustful arc of Beowulf’s persona is not one to be found in the many translations I’ve come across but screenwriters Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary have brought it to the forefront and supplemented its heroics with all the weapons available to man to pierce the flesh. Don’t be mistaking their prose as some pro-misogyny statement of a time when men were men who won the spoils of women serving as little more than entertainers and servants. For all it’s heavy imagery of overpowering males and suggestive dialogue of infidelity and “quick gobbles”, this is a story about the dominance that women will always hold over man as long as the blood flows from one brain to another. For a solid hour of bloodletting and manly talk, the moments that will stand out upon reflection are Beowulf’s longing looks at a Queen harboring little feeling towards her husband, a drunken cuckolder aware of his dying legacy in their inability to produce a male heir. Our hero’s fatal flaw revealed in what will become a test when confronted with the sinful magnificence of Angelina Jolie’s primal attributes. Women may not have always had the titles back then, but men will always be a slave to the one thing they cannot always take by force.

Zemeckis keys into the consequences of Beowulf’s decisions to form the film’s second half, a life spent in regret where he is doomed to recreate the mistakes of the predecessors he was supposed to have outclassed in every respect. Despite the occasional stumble of Gaiman and Avary to clearly state the theme of man’s ultimate feebleness, Zemeckis allows the images of martyrdom to creep into every scene. As Beowulf denounces the “weepy martyrs” through the course of history as an allegiance to the “Roman Christ” sweeps through the King’s people as the savior to end all, the importance of sacrifice is symbolized in cross after cross and embodied in the final scenes that draw man and monster closer together than ever wished.

You’ll notice that I haven’t talked about the animation since the first paragraph. That’s because it essentially goes without saying that Beowulf is the most impressively rendered animated experience that has ever graced a screen of silver. Whenever a filmmaker has tried to take hardcore action into the unchartered realms of a medium that isn’t confined by the restrictions of the physical universe, they have somehow always come up short in delivering set pieces that surpass or even rival the great action sequences of an Indiana Jones or James Cameron spectacular. Peter Jackson took it to the limit in The Return of the King and King Kong, but with the advancements in motion capture technology that Zemeckis brought to gratifying lengths in The Polar Express, it’s clear that he was just getting warmed up.

Beyond the battle sequences which range from two spectacular mano-a-mano encounters with Grendel to a breathtaking faceoff with a dragon and some sea monsters thrown in for good measure, Beowulf utilizes Zemeckis’ pure filmmaking skills to take audiences to places they’ve never gone before. Considering his love for dazzling us with CGI-enhanced tracking shots from the opening of Forrest Gump, the experimentation with Hitchcockian glittery in What Lies Beneath and the subtle one-offs of Cast Away, Zemeckis loves to pull back and zoom head-on through the worlds he creates and there are individual moments that are equally as awe-inspiring as the realistic characters (right down to the hairs on their noses) and the monstrous confrontations they engage in. The fate of a rat being swooped away from the mead hall, Beowulf in a similar predicament being flung through a forest of barren branches and the exquisite details of a horse galloping across a burning bridge put the limitations and fakery of live action effects to absolute shame. More people may remember the sight of a naked Beowulf facing off with his foe, but hey that’s their business.

Besides the fact that 2007 has shaped up to be a pretty good year to see nude strongmen battle to the death (see: Viggo Mortensen in Eastern Promises or for semi-nude: the army of 300), the misinterpretation of this sequence along with Wiglaf’s first line after the disrobing is liable to draw some hearty laughter from crowds. In the moment the scene does have an Austin Powers feel where his junk is strategically covered and shadowed at its most opportune time for an unveiling. But when you look back on it as first a signal of Beowulf’s vanity, some misplaced nobility in facing the monster in a fair fight, but also the beginning of his immasculation. His chiseled body deprived of the one part that makes him a man. Ooohs and aaahs that are forgotten about once Angelina Jolie reveals her perfect Venusesque form and he falls into the same traps of disrespecting and underestimating women that the previous King did. The assumed fairness of one fight against a misunderstood and childlike creature who just wants to be left alone with silence leads to another naked encounter with a woman who outmatches him and finally to a third of his own creation (much like his legend) that he has to put an end to once and for all, if nothing else for the sake of English students everywhere.

The visual advancements of Beowulf is guaranteed to overshadow the ingrained themes, almost making them anonymous while your eyes drink in the scope of the animation (particularly if you see it in 3-D, which is a must if available in your area.) With all the credit that goes to The Lord of the Rings and various incarnations of King Arthur for inspiring one adventure fantasy after another, Beowulf will remind even the staunchest detestors of its studies that it all had to begin somewhere. J.R.R. Tolkien himself did essays on its importance and you can have fun spotting the various plot elements that have influenced everything from hobbits to Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome and, in turn, have found Avary, Gaiman and Zemeckis re-borrowing from the tryst of Arthur and his sister as well as the Species series. Other than Zemeckis, who is going in for a triple-dip on his next project (A Christmas Carol with Jim Carrey), I don’t know who will be able to follow the calling of this technology and make it as alive and vibrant as he has already. The technology will always get better, but there are few filmmakers like Robert Zemeckis who can utilize it into creating something beyond revolutionary.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=15578&reviewer=198
originally posted: 11/15/07 10:19:44
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User Comments

2/05/14 Charles Tatum Sometimes awkward animation gets in the way 4 stars
6/20/10 Craig D. Good visuals but with a script that feels like a first draft. 2 stars
5/02/09 feolindo Exciting, funny and poignant by turns. Wonderful. 4 stars
11/27/08 Yvette Could be better. I own it. Its a sleeper if you don't pay attention. 3 stars
7/19/08 Shaun Wallner Beowulf Rocks!! I enjoy the game too. 5 stars
5/09/08 Siggie I really enjoyed it, though the CGI was a little disconcerting. 4 stars
4/22/08 David Cohen Good story, but why the animation? It was like watching some one play a video game 3 stars
4/11/08 John Millheim I loved it, the 3D was amazing. Good story 5 stars
4/06/08 Arcane Excellent. And sad. Extremely watchable. 4 stars
2/07/08 Physed Good movie 3D was fantastic but why did he fight the monster naked. 5 stars
2/05/08 boob yoob Nice eye candy indeed, and not just the shapely mother, but some clunky dialog kept it back 4 stars
12/19/07 sj Saw 2x in 3D and IMAX; hoping for an R-rated Director's Cut DVD! 5 stars
12/14/07 Glen Best animated movie I've ever seen! Excellent story, action and 3D! 5 stars
12/07/07 Hello Stranger it felt restricted, and somewhat lame. unintentionally funny at times. 2 stars
12/03/07 BBTN Plot was predicatble, 3d wasn't amazing, storyline was dull, fight scenes were lame. 1 stars
12/02/07 I-K Has its moments, but can't make up its mind if it's fairy tale or reality. Visually uneven. 3 stars
12/02/07 Selene 3-D, digital effect - good attempt with the tech. plot line - too much modern cynicism 2 stars
11/26/07 Dan Rugg Great movie start to finish!! 4 stars
11/26/07 Riki BORING. I'd have prefered real life actors with CGI imagery. 3 stars
11/25/07 Mme Cyn Don't watch this instead doing your homework -- they took liberties with the storyline! 4 stars
11/20/07 illinoisjules Highly recommend this twist on animation 5 stars
11/20/07 Sir Gawain were they trying to be funny? or do I just have a twisted sense of humor. weird. 3 stars
11/19/07 Bob Dog Storytelling is doing just fine without mo-cap... 2 stars
11/19/07 James Not worth your time or money. 1 stars
11/17/07 Private Much ado about nothing. Very underwhelming. 2 stars
11/17/07 battlescar BEST MOVIE ANIMATION EVERRR!!!! SEE IT IN 3D!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 5 stars
11/16/07 Ole Man Bourbon 5* for some truly spectacular scenes. 3-D was highly enjoyable. 5 stars
11/16/07 mike kind of overrated and i didn't know it was animated going into it. jolie was nice eye candy 3 stars
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  16-Nov-2007 (PG-13)
  DVD: 26-Feb-2008

  16-Nov-2007 (12A)

  29-Nov-2007 (M)

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