Written around 700 AD and being of unknown authorship, Beowulf may be one of the earliest fantasies ever told–it was certainly the first to tell the story of a braggadocio warrior who travels to a foreign land to slay a demon and a dragon. In the hands of director Robert Zemeckis and screenwriters Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary, the story deviates from the epic poem, but is streamlined for mass appeal. This latest film adaptation is a triumph of classic storytelling, giving us a both hero to root for and (sympathetic) monsters to be feared. Zemeckis’ take on the fable is to play up the action and horror elements, while giving a nod to the dark sexual overtones of the original text. Ray Winstone voices Beowulf the mighty, his portly frame has been swapped out for a Schwarzenegger type. Anthony Hopkins, John Malkovich, Robin Wright Penn, and most notably Angelina Jolie have all been carefully photographed and digitally reconstructed on-screen; it’s often startling that the performances of each actor comes through the confines of their cartoon reinterpretations.
In the far reaches of Denmark, King Hrothgar’s kingdom has been ravaged by a spectacularly brutal and vile creature, Grendel. The monster is the product of a love-affair between the King (Hopkins) and a demonic shape-shifting temptress (Jolie). Desperate to put an end to the slaughter of his people, Hrothgar summons Beowulf (Winstone) and his warrior clan to eliminate the beast. The motley band of rogues face down Grendel, but it is Beowulf who delivers the kill wound to the hideous creature. Retreating back to his cave, Grendel is comforted in his dying moments by his mother, a reptilian figure of murderous intent.
Employing the same motion capture technique he experimented with in The Polar Express, Zemeckis has crafted an entirely computer generated film for adult audiences. The limitation of computer technology from 2007, which still wasn’t able to completely render the actor’s photo-realistic, is appropriately surreal for the material. Beowulf is a yarn that still entertains over a thousand years since it’s inception.
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Stars: Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins, John Malkovich