U.S. Release Date:
November 16, 2007
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Writer: Roger Avary, Neil Gaiman
Producer: Neil Gaiman (executive)
Composer: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Ray Winstone, Brendan Gleeson (Voice), Angelina Jolie (Voice), Anthony Hopkins (Voice), Robin Wright Penn, John Malkovich (Voice)
Running Time: 1 hour and 53 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (intense sequences of violence including disturbing images, some sexual material and nudity)
Pride is the curse, the marketing tag proclaims, rendering the three-dimensional computer-animated Beowulf in need of a reason to be proud. Technology may enhance or evoke wonder but in and of itself it does not make a movie good.
Beowulf, based on an ancient poem and directed by Robert Zemeckis, contains plenty of shock and awe. Much less like a heavy metal music video than the obnoxious 300, its mythological plot is clear and relatively consistent. Every so often it kicks up a visual that takes one's breath away—a sensuous, naked vixen seducing her prey, a perfectly proportioned blond hero commanding a Viking ship in stormy seas and a ferocious, fire-breathing demon that'll rock the house, especially in IMAX, where this picture was screened.
But there are multiple problems; chiefly that the expensive spectacle falls victim to its own philosophy that man is fundamentally flawed. The handsome hero of the title (Ray Winstone) has feet of clay—an idea as archaic as the legendary work of literature—which is evident the moment he arrives to slay the beast. This continually curtails Beowulf's epic arc, in which an evil cave monster torments the people for nefarious reasons. Hint: like Psycho and Aliens, Mother made him do it.
That Momma is portrayed—a term loosely defined here—by Angelina Jolie in high heels puts things in perspective and twin storylines that merge—one with Anthony Hopkins as a drunken king, one with Winstone as the hero—offer an interesting take on the legend. Robin Wright Penn plays the queen, who has an eye for the hero. Various characters figure into the plot.
Beowulf arrives following the creature's attack, claiming he aims to kill it for glory, not gold. His band of Vikings is a motley crew and they are unprepared for the job, a problem that plagues Beowulf, too. He sleeps in the raw in order to face the troll-like creature on its own terms but half of his men are slaughtered before he even seems to know what's happening. Not exactly the brightest Viking, let alone a hero.
He keeps screaming "I am Beowulf!" long after everyone within ten miles has heard of him, though his deeds hardly match his reputation. As far as the overall animation (not merely the 3D) is concerned, it is a curiosity to the point of distraction. The women, notably the queen, look fake compared to the men. Wright Penn in particular is problematic; she looks more like a mannequin than a flesh and blood female pining for a hero. The imagery derails one's attention; with Mr. Hopkins' likeness on screen, for example, it's hard not to think of the actor's well-known face and wonder why he couldn't have just been allowed to stand before a live camera as he is.
Winstone and Mr. Hopkins are fine in conflicted roles—the king is a lush one minute, a wise man the next—and others do what they can to make sense of the uneven picture, though it is unclear what John Malkovich's dreary character is supposed to represent. Jolie is making a career out of these vaguely eastern European-sounding foreign women. As in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and Alexander, she sounds like an earthy, traveling gypsy woman.
But she is there for one reason—sex appeal, and her screen shots are sure to attract attention—and as usual she delivers. The remainder of Beowulf wanders, drags and leaves one examining what's on screen like an unusually shaped vegetable on the dinner table. This movie moves like an old dog trying to get up off the floor but when the dragon fight ensues, the action springs forth.
With yet another flawed hero—how about a hero who is actually heroic for a change?—mixed animation results and a slow pace, Beowulf is, to paraphrase one of its characters, not as good as it might have been.
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