I went to see Beowulf (in Digital 3D, no less) last night with Jon and Casey. I had been looking forward to this movie ever since hearing about it on Neil Gaiman's blog. Well, there was a short, bitter time after seeing the first trailer and thinking that there was no way the movie would be PG-13. It was, and it didn't disappoint. Although it would have been cool to see it in IMAX 3D, I was happy with the normal theater. That was especially true after seeing the preponderance of nekkid male backside. I mean, who needs to see that three stories high? Not this guy! Grendel's mom kinda made up for it later, but I'm getting ahead of myself.
The story should be familiar to anyone that has read about Beowulf, or seen one of the horrible adaptations such as the one featuring Christopher Lambert. Beowulf arrives in Hrothgar's kingdom to slay the vicious troll Grendel for fame and glory. Naturally, Beowulf forgets that you never have to fear the troll as much as the troll's mother.
Here we are treated to a delightful departure from the traditional mythology. I won't spoil it, but I will say that it does a delightful job in tying the two parts of Beowulf's story together: his initial adventures in Hrothgar's kingdom and his epic battle with a dragon in his later years.
Zemeckis has improved on the technology he used to make Tom Hanks look like a semi-realistic cgi character in The Polar Express. The characters in Beowulf are fantastically rendered. Some true to life, others modified for effect or characterization (and no, even though Jon waited for it, at no time did Crispin Glover's Grendel lean over to the queen and say, "You are my density!") Gaiman and Roger Avary outdid themselves with the screenplay. Naturally, I can't comment on how far Zemeckis' direction departs from their source material, but I happen to know that Gaiman, if not Avary, was present for some of the production and was very gratified by the handling of his work. I generally see that sort of cooperation between screenwriters and director as a good sign.
I can think of no serious criticism for the acting cast. Glover was a little hard to understand during his speaking scenes, but considering the state of Grendel's face, it's surprising I understood anything that came out of that misshapen mouth. I thought of keeping a running tally of Ray Winstone's Beowulf's proclamations of, "I'm going to kill your monstah!" after the third or fourth repetition, but I lost count. Funny thing about Winstone? He's credited by imdb as "Drunken Thane" in the Beowulf entry. Who played Beowulf? According to imdb, he doesn't make an appearance in this, the movie Beowulf.
Anthony Hopkin's conflicted and haunted Hrothgar was predictably good. If Hopkin's can't do conflicted and haunted, then who can? Malkovich's Unferth was as Malkovich as it gets. He not only imparted his trademark voice to the role, but his mannerisms were captured perfectly, especially during his drunken confrontation with Beowulf. Robin Wright-Penn looked better CGIed into Queen Wealthow than she has in years. She also got to showcase her tragic cold side opposite Hrothgar and Beowulf.
Then there's Angelina Jolie. A friend of mine refuses to see the movie because she's afraid it will sully her attitude towards Ms. Jolie. I certainly don't understand the sentiment. Jolie's performance onscreen was magnificent. I never knew her voice could be so sinister and seductive at the same time. Her off-screen (sort of) moments were just as good. We never quite get to see what she looks like with her glammer down, but we do get a good impression as to why Grendel was no looker.
Beowulf was a great movie and a wonderful way to kick off the holiday blitz of blockbusters. I highly recommend seeing it in 3D. There are plenty of great visuals that really burst out of the screen. There are also a couple of those, "Hey look! This is in 3D! See how this object is coming right out of the screen? Crazy, huh? Imagine watching this without 3D! This scene would be so out of place because we're trying so hard to point out how very 3D it is!" that are so standard in 3D movies. For those of you that have seen Vincent Price's House of Wax, think of the paddle board scene and you'll know what I'm talking about. Find it in Digital 3D and you won't be disappointed, IMAX 3D would be even better, though I don't think you'll go wrong with the standard 2D version either.
I give Beowulf fourteen out of fourteen dead thanes on a scale I just made up that doesn't mean anything.
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