BEOWULF: 2-D STORY IN 3-D FORMAT
An entrancing and, more importantly, computerized nude temptress emerges from the dark shimmering waters of an underground lagoon and with an angelic voice begins to say a whisper of words, “Are you the one they call Beowulf? Such a strong man you are… A man like you could own the greatest tale ever sung… Beowulf, stay with me… Give me a son and I shall make you the greatest king that ever lived… This, I swear… You will forever be king, forever strong, mighty, beyond imagination…” It’s soon evident “A promise was made… a price will be paid…” A decaying yet solemn King Hrothgar proclaims, “She’s not my curse… not anymore…”
Robert Zemeckis has converted the epic poem about the warrior who slays the monster Grendel into swordplay between computers and storytelling. There have been about three mild adaptations of the source in the last nine years about a hero who travels great distances to prove his strength at impossible odds against beasts and demons but at this point, there may as well only be one.
In the Danish kingdom belonging to King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins), the king and his court have gathered to inaugurate a new mead hall, Heorot, to do what all did back then and do today, drink. The hall is eventually destroyed with brutality and waist-splitting violence by the wretched monster Grendel, the ugliest creature on earth… presumably… A reward is put into play for the defeat of this forsaken troll.
To this court comes the heroic warrior, Beowulf (Ray Winstone), of Geats. Unferth (John Malkovich), the King’s advisor, challenges Beowulf’s credibility. The slayer boasts a resume of slayings and triumphs, and why not, he’s Beowulf. He is the very model of a medieval monster slaughterer, making great amounts of money on merchandising, action figures, etc… presumably… When the king offers his queen Wealthow (Robin Wright Penn) as a prize for the slaying of Grendel, the hero immediately strips naked, ready to do battle.
The disfigured and high-tempered Grendel arrives on schedule to tear down the mead hall.
There is a mighty battle of havoc which is rendered in gruesome detail, right down to injured skulls and severed limbs. What follows this battle is a list of pure political scandal in the upper ranks of the royal family. Extra! Extra! Read All About It! Is Hrothgar the father?! Is Wealthow making her king sleep downstairs?! Was there an exchange in Grendel’s lair? Did Beowulf say yes?!
It’s highly entertaining but a far cry of victory from being a classic.
Zemeckis employs the same motion-capture technology that he first used in The Polar Express, to slightly better effect. You quickly get drunk with carnage when you’re engulfed in this mythical story with flesh-and-blood actors that are present in voice only. And yet, you don’t focus on the fact nothing is real as the presence of the A-list cast is faded away with the audience putting the actor’s out of past or real life context. You really get a chance to focus on the characters themselves, rather than the actors as with any live-action movie. The versions of the actors do truly resemble the real thing except in moments when it comes to the title character of Beowulf and his nemesis, Grendel. Crispin Glover surely doesn’t look like a complete monster and as for Ray Winstone, he doesn’t have a six-pack but that’s not much of a mystery if you know him. The effects are even better or just suit this time period more than Polar Express’ relatively modern setting. Polar Express had that extra holiday twinkle in its railroad tracks, giving it some magic where Beowulf has no excuse but to deliver on the tragic, an epic amount of action and an entrancing tale. It accomplishes this in bits and outbursts. It does venture off from its source material and it’s for the best but when you realize how far it did go, you wonder if they should have gone farther to fill the story even more. There are gaps of slow drama between action sequences. The story may in fact be too basic as there isn’t much motivation for the characters. At some points you just feel they do things for the sake of doing it without an answer to “why?” which may have also been the problem in the lack of audiences attending. The trailers gave no great motivation to watch so “why do it at all?”
Beowulf was a slight domestic disappointment with only about $82 million in ticket sales but did respectfully conquer the lands overseas with about $113 million.
The failure close-to-home may have stemmed from the lack of enthusiasm the marketing propelled compared to other live-action films. With live-action, a person’s always impressed with the seeming impossibility of such sets and costumes being created, so you’re instantly transported while in contrast to computers, everybody basically knows nothing is impossible. That’s not to say a good film isn’t a possibility, as long as there’s talent behind the keystrokes.
So sharpen your weapons and grab your steeds and battle against some enjoyable earth-soiling carnage and high-flying excitement alongside Beowulf on DVD.