R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir Robert Zemeckis
scr Neil Gaiman, Roger Avary
with Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins, Angelina Jolie, Robin Wright Penn, Brendan Gleeson, John Malkovich, Alison Lohman, Crispin Glover, Chris Coppola, Charlotte Salt, Tyler Steelman, Dominic Keating
release US/UK 16.Nov.07
07/US Warner 1h54
Come to mama: Beowulf meets Grendel's mother

winstone hopkins jolie
Beowulf With a wonderfully epic script and vivid characters, the epic poem is brought entertainingly to life by an extremely gifted cast and crew. Although the motion-capture animation style leaves us with a couple of big questions. Mainly, "Why?"

Hrothgar (Hopkins) is a party-loving king with a dark secret, an aloof wife (Wright Penn) and a shifty right-hand man (Malkovich). Then the hideous monster Grendel (Glover) turns his famed mead hall into a bloodbath. Enter Beowulf (Winstone), a towering blond Norseman who vows to kill the monster, which he does after a fierce battle. But he also enters into a shady deal with Grendel's mother (Jolie), guaranteeing himself riches and peace. Years later, Beowulf's deal comes back to haunt him in the form of a giant dragon that's laying waste to his kingdom.

Gaiman and Avary have brilliantly adapted the Old English poem into a rich and involving story about personal ambition and guilt, with sympathetic characters and a raucous sense of vulgarity and earthy humour mixed in among the action and aching romantic entanglements. Meanwhile, Zemeckis deploys his considerable skills to create a film that looks unlike anything we've ever seen, with camera work that sweeps around the awesome settings.

Zemeckis filmed the actors on a stage, then digitised them with an attention to detail that catches the pores on their faces--scars, tiny hairs, everything. It's seriously impressive (especially in large-format 3D), and allows the performances to shine through tiny details of movement and expression. And yet, there's an odd vacancy in the characters' eyes that keeps us from ever fully accepting them as living, breathing humans. And there's also the fact that, among a recognisable cast, Winstone's physicality has been completely revamped (Beowulf looks oddly like Sean Bean). Why Zemeckis didn't adopt the 300 style is the big question.

That said, the film is thoroughly engaging, never hedging away from the raw grit of life in AD 507 Denmark, complete with gruesome carnage and rampant Scandinavian nudity (although Zemeckis' gimmicky avoidance of male genitalia is just ludicrous). This is a great story with real resonance about how to break the cycle of evil in the world. And it acknowledges that being a hero is both complicated and painfully difficult.

cert 12 themes, violence, grisliness, sexuality 9.Nov.07

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... Beowulf Sandra Cheek, Oxford, Alabama: 2/5 "I was excited about the film because of the story and I am a fan of medieval movies. I just couldn't get beyond the appearance of the film. I couldn't decide if it was a cartoon or a movie. Our theater did not show the film in 3D, and perhaps that would have been an improvement. At times, the story dragged and there were very uncomfortable pauses, with enough time that teenagers in the audience shouted out amusing comments. All in all it was a pretty interesting film, but I can't help but question the need to use animation, or whatever this style was. It seems that gritty, sweaty, real human beings were necessary to tell such a tale." (28.Nov.07)
2007 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall