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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 Peter Sobczynski

"Grendel's Mom Has Got It Going On!"
4 stars

Over the last decade or so, there have been few cinematic sights more depressing to behold than that of Robert Zemeckis regressing before our eyes from being the innovative director behind such brash and energetic triumphs as “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” “Used Cars” and “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” to the increasingly bland hack behind such financially remunerative but artistically mush-headed works as “Cast Away” and the fairly unspeakable “The Polar Express.” As a one-time fan who used to rate Zemeckis as one of the most inventive filmmakers around (not to mention the fact that he co-wrote the screenplay for Steven Spielberg’s most criminally underrated film, the hilarious WW II comedy “1941"), I think that his recent artistic tailspin can be traced to two things. For starters, after spending years making goofy-yet-caustic films that both explored and exemplified American popular culture of the second half of the 20th century, he finally hit the big time with the Oscar-winning triumph of 1994's “Forrest Gump” (a film that actually contains more of the cynical dark humor of his earlier films than it is usually credited for) and like a lot of once-iconoclastic filmmakers who scored the big prize (Jonathan Demme), he seemed to take that as a cue to make the kind of stuffy and overly serious films that his work used to stand in marked contrast with. The other problem has been the inescapable fact that in recent years, he has been more concerned with making films that would allow him to develop and utilize brand-new technologies than in making films that told entertaining stories. When he made “Roger Rabbit,” for example, he encountered immense technological challenges in virtually every scene but what made the film such a masterpiece–indeed, I will cheerfully mark it down as one of the great films of the 1980's–is that he deployed those technologies in the service of a strong screenplay instead of letting them completely dominate the proceedings.

With his latest film, “Beowulf,” Zemeckis has once again undertaken the kind of massive technological feat that would have been utterly unthinkable only a few years ago. Using an advanced version of the motion-capture technology that he first utilized on “The Polar Express,” he has given us a lavish screen rendition of the 1000-year-old epic poem, a sprawling work that has influenced virtually every mythological epic to come along in its wake, that manages to offer up some of the key assets of live-action filmmaking–chiefly the presence of living, breathing actors doing their thing–within the context of a cinematic world where literally any imaginable event can be brought to life via computer-generated imagery. While the resulting film is easily the most consistently engaging work that Zemeckis has done since 1997's “Contact,” it is a far-from-perfect work and in a strange way, my response to it is similar to my response to the original poem. From a technical standpoint, it is a triumph through and through and I can see it becoming as influential to the world of fantasy cinema as the original work has been to the world of literature. As an engaging work of drama, however, the story kind of meanders around and around without really offering viewers much to chew on beyond the sight of one spectacularly gory battle scene after another.

Set in Denmark in 507 AD, “Beowulf” opens as the drunken revelries in the favorite mead hall in the lands of King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins) are swiftly and brutally interrupted by a vile monster that burst in and decimates countless men, women and children in an orgy of bloodletting and limb-ripping. This is no ordinary monster but the fearsome Grendel (Crispin Glover), a bizarre mutant outcast who lives far away in the mountains and who is driven into his violent rage by the sounds of merriment emerging from the mead hall. Desperate to bring an end to this siege, Hrothgar puts the word out that he is in search of a hero to slay the beast and whomever pulls off the feat will be rewarded with any number of treasures–gold, a bottomless cup of mead and even the favors of Wealthow (Robin Wright Penn), his young and unhappy bride. Before, famed warrior Beowulf (Ray Winstone) arrives with tales of fantastic derring-do (his recounting of an encounter with an army of underwater beasts while engaging in a days-long swimming contest is a hoot) and a promise that he will defeat Grendel. That night, he lures Grendel back to the mead hall and in the brutal battle that follows, he does indeed manage to slay the beast by tearing his arm right out of its socket.

Satisfied with a job well done, Beowulf tucks in for a good night’s sleep but when he wakes up, he discovers that all of his men, save for loyal aide-de-camp Wiglaf (Brendan Gleeson), have been slaughtered during the night and left hanging from the rafters. At this point, Hrothgar comes clean on a couple of points that he might have mentioned before–the embarrassing fact that Grendel’s even-more-fearsome mother is the one responsible for this latest massacre and the even-more-embarrassing admission that Grendel was actually the result of a long-ago tryst between himself and Grendel’s mom. Beowulf sets off to Grendel’s cave to defeat mom once and for all but is unprepared for the moment when he meets her in the seductive golden-toned flesh and you can’t really blame him as she is portrayed by none other than Angelina Jolie, our contemporary go-to girl for both mind-blowing sexpots and fiercely devoted mothers. Without going into detail of what transpires here, let us say that they come to a mutually beneficial arrangement. Years later, Beowulf has become an increasingly bored and jaded king who has grown weary of living up to his legend as the one who defeated Grendel and his mother. He is knocked out of this reverie by the arrival of a terrifying dragon that begin to lay siege to the area and who seems to have a specific vendetta against Beowulf himself.

Although the screenplay cooked up by Roger Avary & Neil Gaiman sticks fairly close to the outlines of the poem as we know it (although I don’t recall the translation that I slogged through in high school utilizing the phrase “That’s the spirit, Beowulf!”), it varies in a couple of key details to such a degree that anyone attempting to use a screening of this film as a way of cheating through a book report will find themselves in for a rude awakening when their grades arrive. These changes do go a long way towards tying together the events of the final third of the story with what has gone before but they don’t really do much the story as a whole other than serve as a narrative patch. Beyond that, the screenplay for “Beowulf” has the same central flaw as the original poem–once you get beyond all the fights and whatnot, there really isn’t much of a story that you can glom on to in any significant way. Oh sure, there is talk of honor, loyalty and betrayal–all the stuff that you normally here in a fantasy epic of this type–but it is all just talk and it is quickly shoved to the side in order to make way for the next set piece. Considering the fact that a strict adherence to the text was clearly not the highest priority, I wish that Avary & Gaiman had taken the opportunity to embroider it further–after all, the version of the poem that we all know today certainly isn’t the one that first emerged a thousand years ago but is one that changed and adapted over the years as it was told and retold. As a result, “Beowulf” remains the relatively shallow epic that, quite frankly, it has always been–a work that has a lot going on the surface but relatively little beneath that surface.

That said, when you have the kind of surface details that are on display in “Beowulf,” it could be argued that you don’t really need anything else. Using his army of technicians and computer wizards, Zemeckis has created one of the most lavishly detailed worlds that I can recall seeing in a fantasy film–the level of detail that has clearly gone into every single scene is simply staggering. (Even when the film occasionally bogs down, you can easily pass through the dead moments just by studying the surroundings in more detail.) Although the motion-capture wizards still haven’t quite figured out how to make the human characters look authentically human–they still have a dead-eyed look to them that is more off-putting than anything else–the effect isn’t as creepily unpleasant as it was in “The Polar Express,” possibly because the larger-than-life fantasy aspect of the story allows for a certain unreality to come into play. When the film is allowed to cut free from recreating reality, most obviously in its depiction of Grendel, the results are terrifying to behold and will most likely serve as nightmare fuel for viewers of all ages for a long time to come.

On the other hand, I have no doubt that Angelina Jolie’s presence will go on to inspire viewer dreams of a very different kind. While the visual depictions of the other characters have all been altered from their human models to some degree (as several people have pointed out, Beowulf looks more like Sean Bean than he resembles Ray Winstone), Zemeckis must have realized early on that if you are trying to offer up the physical embodiment of pure carnal lust, you can hardly improve on the sight of Jolie and with the exception of a couple of additional appendages (chiefly a long, snaking tail and a pair of built-in high heels), they have pretty much left her image alone and the result is surprisingly effective–even if you have seen her undressed before in the actual flesh before, the vision of her on display here is overpowering enough to reduce even the most blase viewer into a whimpering puddle of Jell-O incapable of saying anything more profound than “Homina, homina.”. In fact, I will go as far as to say that her first appearance, rising from the depths of the water in the cave in all her naked glory, is a classic moment of pure cinema that is sure to go down as one of the all-time great entrances in movie history. (Her exit is pretty damned memorable as well, now that you mention it.)

Two final observations about “Beowulf”:

1. “Beowulf” will be playing throughout the country in three different formats. Many theaters will be showing a flat, 2-D version of the film. In addition, there will be about 1000 digital 3-D prints playing in theaters equipped to show films in that format. Finally, roughly 100 IMAX theaters will be showing a specially developed 3-D version of the film utilizing the IMAX process. Although worth seeing in any format, the only real way to see it is in its 3-D IMAX incarnation. If you have the ability to catch it in one of these engagements, do so because no matter what the additional time and expense may be for you to do so, the results are more than worth it.

2. Knowing full well how icky the original poem could get, I walked into “Beowulf” wondering how a thoroughly NC-17 tale could possibly work with a PG-13 rating. Walking out after the screening, I was wondering how in the hell this film managed to get away with such a seemingly lenient rating. This is an unapologetically violent and bloody film and while some of the impact is muted because of the animation aspect, there is still so much carnage on display (not to mention Angelina Jolie’s far-more aesthetically pleasing displays) that I suspect that if it weren’t a tremendously expensive epic from a major studio and a major director, it would have gotten the “R” rating in a heartbeat. In other words, parents of younger or more sensitive children may want to either check it out for themselves first before bringing the family or give it a pass altogether–unless, of course, they want to spend the next few weeks talking the kids down from the nightmares that are almost certain to occur as a result.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=15578&reviewer=389
originally posted: 11/15/07 23:14:46
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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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