Beowulf is a sampling of what is to come in the future of motion picture entertainment and it is a very tasty sampling. The movie is flawed but when shown in eye-popping RealD 3D in digital theaters across the nation, it never fails to entertain and gives you every cent of your money’s worth. Director Robert Zemeckis, who I’m sure most of us would like to see shooting live-action features again, does deliver the goods as well as a highly engaging storyline.

The beginning will strike most viewers as surprising, because it’s not very good at all. Forgive me when I say cartoonish, but that’s what it is. It almost feels like you’re watching Shrek the Third. As the monster Grendel (Crispin Glover), who has super-hearing capability, crashes Danish King Hrothgar’s (Anthony Hopkins) party because he can’t stand them singing, there is just a weird vibe that the film gives off. There’s a lot of action going on with Grendel bringing one unfortunate being to their gruesome death after another, but the scene is tone-deaf. You can even compare it to Shrek the Third in the scene where Shrek and Donkey meet Merlin. We expect Merlin to be funny, but instead everything feels awkward. Not to say Beowulf has the intention of creating humor here but the result is just the same.

Enter Ray Winstone as Beowulf to not only save the Danes from Grendel but save the movie from being a disappointment as well. Everything that happens henceforth from his arrival is pretty solid, except for the campiness of Beowulf fighting Grendel completely naked and Zemeckis covering his frank and beans with methods you can find in Austin Powers. Zemeckis and his animation wizards start to pull us in with some absolutely gorgeous shots, most notably that of Angelina Jolie as Grendel’s mother. Let’s just say that she is underused here. In a late scene when Beowulf enters her lair and she says it has been far too long, she is speaking for many of us. The action sequences, from a battle with sea monsters to a climatic fight with a dragon, are nothing short of stunning.

I have heard from those who have read the epic poem that Zemeckis and writers Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary have changed the story quite a bit. No complaints here though. I thought the screenplay was well structured with a few surprises lurking around every corner. The reason why the film works so well is the character development of Beowulf, who goes from heroic, to greedy, to famous, to a man who realizes he has done wrong, to a tragic figure. There are some minor quibbles, besides the spotty beginning. The relationship between Beowulf and Wealthow, the queen and wife he gained during his rise to power played by Robin Wright Penn, is not explored very well except for a nice scene toward the climax. Also, there is an action taken by Hrothgar, rather important to the story, that raises some questions; most importantly why? We understand the intentions of this twist but it doesn’t completely work.

This would normally be the part where I criticize the acting but that would just be awkward here. Give credit to the animators, their motion capture techniques are revolutionizing Hollywood as we speak. The characters are as close to real as we’ve ever seen. However, there are some scenes that are painfully obvious that we need to see a real face on the screen. The characters don’t make their emotions believable through their facial expressions and we know that a live action Ray Winstone and Anthony Hopkins could do that in their sleep.

Despite the flaws that keepBeowulf from being a nearly great film, at the end of the day you have to give Robert Zemeckis a pat on the back. It accomplishes the major goals it set out to do: look magnificent, make Ray Winstone look like a bad-ass, and showcase action sequences unlike any we’ve ever seen before. If you pay close attention, you may also discover some bonuses along the way. It’s a movie that demands at least one viewing at the theater and I encourage you to check it out and make sure you do so in 3D.

Grade: B

Beowulf Poster Release Date: November 16, 2007
Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence including disturbing images, some sexual material and nudity.
Running Time: 113 min.
Cast: Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins, Angelina Jolie, John Malkovich, Crispin Glover
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Screenplay: Neil Gaiman, Roger Avary, Anonymous (epic poem)
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Official Website: Click Here

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