Monday, March 10, 2008

REVIEW: Beowulf


Year: 2007
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Starring: Ray Winstone, Robin Wright Penn, Anthony Hopkins, Brendan Gleeson, Angelina Jolie
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
MPAA: Rated PG-13

Beowulf is an old epic poem written in Anglo Saxon literature. This famous poem took nearly 10 years to finally make the jump onto the big screen. Director Robert Zemeckis who also directed popular hits such as the Back to the Future trilogy and Forrest Gump envisioned Beowulf to be shot in CGI motion capture just like his previous film, The Polar Express. The film finally got green lighted back in 2005 and made its debut on theaters in 2007. Beowulf grossed an estimated $195 million worldwide on a $150 budget. While the film wasn't a huge success like the studios had hoped for, but it still managed to pass its budget. As strange as this sounds, my British literature class was actually studying this epic poem before the movie was released. After reading the poem, I was set to watch the film and compare the two.

Plot Outline:
Beowulf (Ray Winstone) is an untroubled muscle bound brute with a habit for slaying monsters who soon finds himself trading his integrity for power and glory. He arrives at a small Danish kingdom to rid it of the murderous beast Grendel (Crispin Glover). Beowulf and his geats succeed in killing the demon, but it is not long before the wrath of Grendel's mother (Angelina Jolie) is visited upon them. With most of his men dead, Beowulf heads off to Grendel's cave to murder its mother and finish the job off once and for all. This encounter with the bedazzled beast is more than he bargained for. Beowulf is soon seduced into to giving the evil temptress a new son in return for life long protection. The decision will come to haunt Beowulf in later life.

The story of Beowulf is kind of a mixed bag. Ill start off with whats wrong with the story. These days Hollywood is always up to their tricks with movies based on books or poems and Beowulf suffers from that. The epic Anglo Saxon poem is translated onto the big screen in a wrongly manner. Having read the poem a few weeks before the movie came out, I knew everything about the story of the poem. For some reason the writers decided not to stay faithful to the poem and instead alter the story. Their are many scenes or parts that are captured wrong in the movie and even some that are not even their. I don't want to spoil anything for the people who haven't seen the movie, but I can tell you now that its not exactly the same as the original poem. Even though the movie isn't exactly the same as the poem, it still manages to be entertaining. The plot is somewhat simple to understand and is filled with many action sequences that seem to go well with the story.

Since the entire movie is filmed using CGI motion capture, the cast only lends their voices to these characters that they play as. Ray Winstone plays as Beowulf and he does a great job in his role. I thought his voice was perfect for the role of Beowulf and his voice talent is very obvious here. Brendan Gleeson plays as Wiglaf and he has a somewhat charming look that seems suitable for the role of Wiglaf. Anthony Hopkins plays as King Hrothgar and he does a pretty good job in his role. I enjoyed his clumsy-ness and drunk acting. We also have Robin Wright Penn playing as Queen Wealtheow and she also does a pretty good job in her role. Crispin Glover plays as Grendel and he gives a surprisingly good performance. I loved his voice and thought it was very convincing. Angelina Jolie plays as Grendel's Mother, but I didn't enjoy her voice work as much as I did the others. I just thought her voice didn't convince me enough.

The visual effects for Beowulf are simply astounding. The whole movie is filmed using CGI motion capture, the same technology that made The Polar Express and it looks absolutely wonderful. Most of the cast is rendered using this technology and the characters faces mirror that of their voice talent. I cant believe how real Anthony Hopkins looks like in the movie, its seriously that good. Being a recent release and a straight to digital release, Beowulf benefits from pristine source. Detail is amazing high with almost everything looking very crisp and clear. For example, the facial hair on Beowulf's face is amazingly detailed with every single hair piece being noticeable. Not every thing is perfect about Beowulf's visuals as its animations some times stick out. They don't seem too real enough because of the way the characters bodies move around.

The music of Beowulf is pretty good. The music is composed by Alan Silvestri who also composed some other hits such as The Mummy Returns and Zemeckis's previous film, The Polar Express. The music is good for the most part with the film having its very own score to give this movie some legs. The score while being good isn't used enough and isn't as loud as I would have hoped for. For an epic film like Beowulf, I would have thought the soundtrack to be amazingly great, but it certainly isn't. Beowulf may not have the loudest soundtrack ever, but its definitely got one of the strongest bass work I have heard in awhile. Bass is used very effectively with alot of moments featuring some great rumblings that really puts you in front of the action. Dialogue is also very good with voices sounding very clear and fluid.

Beowulf is another movie that Hollywood got in the way of. Here we have an old epic poem that could have been fantastic to see on the big screen, but fails to deliver on its promises. The story while being fun and entertaining, hardly does the poem any justice with alot of parts being changed or scrapped. The cast is good with some of the cast members giving good voice work while others sounding alittle bored. The visual effects are outstanding and simply put, one of the best motion captures ever. The soundtrack isn't as loud as I would have thought it to be, but its definitely got alot of bass to satisfy your home theater. In the end, I found this movie to be somewhat cool. Sure the story isn't 100% faithful to the poem, but its still fun and entertaining. I would recommend this film to just about anyone that's interested in an epic action movie.

Grade: B-

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