STUDIO: Paramount
MSRP: $28.98
RUNNING TIME: 114 Minutes

  • Deleted Scenes
  • A Hero’s Journey: The Making of Beowulf
  • Beasts of Burden: Designing the Creatures of Beowulf
  • Creating the Ultimate Beowulf
  • The Art of Beowulf
  • And More!

The Pitch

One of the great archetypal stories of all time gets adapted in lavish digital motion capture/animation by beloved creators Robert Zemeckis, Neil Gaiman, and Roger Avary. Featuring an all-star cast, Beowulf is a fantasy film for grown-ups.

The Humans

Director: Robert Zemeckis

Writers: Neil Gaiman. Roger Avary. Anonymous (source text).

Cinematographer: Robert Presley

Cast: Ray Winstone. Anthony Hopkins. Brendan Gleeson. Crispin Glover. Robin Wright Penn. John Malkovich. Angelina Jolie. COSTAS MANDYLOR.

The Nutshell

Instead of doing a direct adaptation of the ancient tale of heroism and weakness and instead of catering to the perception that large scale animation is strictly for kids, the filmmakers have created a riff on the mythology of Grendel and Beowulf that has much more in common with The Lord of the Rings and 300 than the typical mainstream animated films. The result is a lusty, violent epic that works even outside the digitally projected 3-D audiences were treated to during its theatrical run in 2007.

The Lowdown

This is a simple review for a simple film. A beautifully simple film.

King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins) has the finest mead in the land and he isn’t afraid to share it. Unfortunately he also shares a filthy secret, as his grandeur is built on lies and treachery. A tryst with a vile seductive demoness (Angelina Jolie) has led to the birth of Grendel (Crispin Glover), an unholy bastard with ear issues graced with brute strength and a fondness for ripping people in half. A hero must be found to save the land. That hero is Beowulf (Ray Winstone).

Beowulf, one of the first rock stars. And he kicks all sorts of ass.

Beowulf is an interesting film because it works on multiple levels where films of the sort tend to coast on the sheer visual achievement and technical splendor instead of creating a wholly satisfying experience. The Polar Express to me is a failure because it never ties the two ends together but this time around Robert Zemeckis and Image Movers get us in the door with the concept and keep us there with an engaging story and some really fun old school adventure.

Also, by modifying the original story to make a more complete framework the filmmakers can have fun with the material and create an actual three-act movie. Gaiman’s eloquence and Avary’s genre knowledge are a great if surprising pairing and with Zemeckis’ legendary ability with tech, this is a film you don’t have to apologize for. There’s no leap of faith required here, which is far more impressive than the actual wizardry onscreen. It flows like honey and whether showcasing amazing water skirmishes or high altitude dragon battles, Beowulf is a nearly seamless achievement.

It doesn’t hurt that Beowulf is a terrific leading character as realized here. Vain. Uncompromising. Prone to weakness. Oozing Ray Winstone. These are fun and meaty things and the somewhat threadbare plot allows the film to simply focus on being a ride. Not a vacuous one like many summer movies, but a film that doesn’t try to reach beyond its grasp.

We’ve lost the fun of the 80’s where films like Conan the Barbarian, The Sword and the Sorceror, and the many other sword and sandal clones made their mark. In addition to being a riff on classic literature, Beowulf dives into the lusty and violent fun that made that subgenre such a blast. It truly is a return to form, but raised higher by the A-List sensibilities the genre so rarely gets.

It’s not a
performance film and there are moments where the line between the real-life actors and their onscreen avatars is a little distracting. Seeing Anthony Hopkins being brought into the Mead Hall waving his arms drunkenly is simply a weird experience at first but once things get moving the performance capture and computer marriage of performer and binary numbers becomes a memory. Ray Winstone (who I think would have probably been a great Beowulf without the cosmetic makeover) does a wonderful job, as do folks like Brendan Gleeson and though I am not a fan, Crispin Glover as the shrieking Grendel. I’m a bit Anthony Hopkins and John Malkovich’d out in general so I could take or leave them. Angeline Jolie is truly a perfect choice for her character though her look is so singular I can see how some people couldn’t reconcile the real-life person from the character. We aren’t there yet, but we are really nearing a line where the digital actor goes from being some Orwellian threat to a reality and in the hands of people not named Lucas it’s perfectly fine.

The film also doesn’t need to ride on the current political environment to register.
I’m sure whatever modern world comparisons people would like to see are in there if they want them but as a
stripped-down masculine bit of beautiful, good fun it’s as purely
satisfying as anything released in 2007. It works better as a light bit of eye-popping fun than anything else it could want to be. It also is a lot more engaging that the previous incarnations of the story [yes, even Eaters of the Dead/The Thirteenth Warrior you silly fools], and I think the writers’ modifications make the whole framework incredibly stronger.

It’s a refreshingly simple film. Complex as hell behind the scenes and invested with amazing craftwork, but simple to the viewer. I for one appreciate that about it the most.

A refreshingly simple film is a rare thing indeed.

As for the “Unrated” aspect. I noticed a little more violence but nothing that’ll change the overall impact of the film. That said, if you buy a copy this is the one to get.

The Package

The disc isn’t loaded with features but it’s handsomely appointed. The absence of a commentary track (and how hard could it have been to wrangle Avary and Gaiman for a brilliant audio commentary. They’re WRITERS. Ahem…) is nearly made up for by a series of short but solid featurettes, the best of which devoted to the art of Beowulf. Doug Chiang is possibly the most unsung genius in Hollywood and his artwork here is nothing short of superlative. If you haven’t picked up the hardcover companion book, you’re missing out.

There’s also a nice “making of” that showcases the work the actors had to go through to realize Robert Zemeckis’ vision, a painstaking process that is so much more akin to stage work and pure filmmaking than standing in front of a green screen. The amount of detail and craftsmanship that goes into these films is mind boggling.

Additionally there are a few deleted scenes presented as animatics/pre-viz renders with audio work. None of the scenes are vital but they all help enrich the story.

I don’t know if this is a precursor to some gigantic DVD to be released at a later date as the whole impact of Beowulf seems to be a little smaller than many expected, but I don’t even think it’s an issue. I’d recommend this DVD regardless of any possible double dip scenarios. This is a really nice package in its own right.

8.0 out of 10

And now, more proof of the beauty of Beowulf: