Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Premise: A computer generated adaptation of the epic poem. The title character (Ray Winstone) is a Scandinavian warrior who battles the monster Grendel (Crispin Glover) and his mother (Angelina Jolie).
What Works: Beowulf is quite beautiful in many places and the animation pays wonderful attention to detail in rendering the environment and the characters. The film has been released in theaters simultaneously in 2-D and 3-D formats and the 3-D version is far superior. The 3-D effects are impressive, with edged weapons poking out of the screen and characters existing in rich environments with lots of depth.
What Doesn’t: The reason the 3-D version is so superior is that it helps Beowulf to compensate for its lack of substance. Although films ought to be evaluated separately from their literary sources, students of English literature ought to be aware that this is not a film adaptation made for them. This is a Cliff’s Notes adaptation of Beowulf, and it has been made to appeal to audiences who were raised on video games, the same audience that packed screenings of 300. And, like 300, this film is all about spectacle with characters engaging in over the top violence and seething with masculinity through laughably macho dialogue. The film ignores some of its potential themes, like fatherhood and the cyclical nature of violence, in favor of piling on action sequences. Despite the excellence of the animation, its style raises new problems. The film has been made using motion capture on the actors, giving it the same look as Shrek and The Polar Express. The trouble is that it’s hard to take Beowulf seriously because it shares the look of these light, family friendly pictures. Viewers may well expect Grendel to show up speaking in the voice of Mike Meyers with an obnoxious donkey in tow. The result of these clashing components is a film that plays a bit like a Warner Brothers cartoon version of Gladiator.
Bottom Line: Beowulf may satisfy audiences looking for a wrestling picture and it will probably appeal to thirteen year old boys, but for the rest of us it is largely a let down because the story lacks depth and its aesthetic choices are confusing for the viewer.
Episode: #167 (November 17, 2007)