Sticking with the animated style of moviemaking, Robert Zemeckis brings us a retelling of the classic story Beowulf. Done entirely with CGI, Beowulf is a 3D motion picture with a good sound track and some very fine acting. Though the beginning was a touch weak, the movie gets better and better as the story progresses.

Centuries ago, as the story tells it, a Danish king was beset by a demon named Grendel who ravaged his kingdom. He offered half his gold to the warrior who could kill the demon, and the proud and boastful Beowulf shows up to do exactly that. He successfully kills Grendel, only to be confronted with a more powerful demon: Grendel’s mother. He returns to the hall of the Danish king Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins), claiming to have ended their problems. Hrothgar names Beowulf his heir and Beowulf assumes the throne upon his death. But years later, when Beowulf is well past his prime, a secret from his past comes back to haunt him.

Though the technology of CGI is continually improving, I must confess I do not understand the fascination with it. In my opinion, cartoons are for South Park or Family Guy. The closer and closer a cartoon or CGI comes to looking real, the more irritating are the differences. CGI still does not faithfully represent real life: the characters still look a little funny, and their movements do not ring true. This problem may very well be completely solved in the near future, as Steven Spielberg predicts, but then we are left wondering what the point is. Why spend so much time making a CGI movie look as real as possible when you can just film a real movie? I certainly understand using CGI to make a dragon look real in an otherwise live action movie, but why make CGI humans when there are six and a half billion of the real things running about the planet?

Still, however awkward the characters look on screen, a movie, whether cartoon or live action, is still about story, character, acting, photography, sound, direction… all the standard elements. On this count, Beowulf is a surprisingly decent flick. Though at first it is filled with self-conscious shots that are there to highlight the fact that we are watching a 3D movie, Zemeckis eventually settles down and spins a fine tale.

One thing I very much appreciated about the movie was its subtlety. Though not an ultra-subtle piece on the order of Antonioni’s The Passenger, there were no uncomfortable and unrealistic lines of dialogue that were clearly included to make sure the audience was following along well. The finer points are understood through a look, or the inflection in Hopkins’ voice. We are shown things instead of told things.

Another strong point is that the characters eventually become interesting. Though Beowulf arrives on the scene as a boastful ubermensch singing the glory of battle and honor in death, he becomes more nuanced, as does the story itself. Zemeckis is responsible for what is perhaps the most underrated film of the decade in What Lies Beneath. With Beowulf he demonstrates that he has lost none of his edge and cunning as a director.

I sincerely wish this movie had been filmed as live action, but I’m not going to dwell on it. As they say (in the tradition of Ayn Rand): it is what it is. For the limitations of CGI, Zemeckis and crew have managed to fashion a satisfying tale with all sorts of solid elements: the story, the acting, the sound track, the sound effects… the list could go on. It’s not the best film of the year, but it was definitely better than most.

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

A native of Toledo, Ohio, Matthew is a graduate of THE Ohio State University. An occasionally truant student, he majored in Spanish when he finally got around to it. His interests, apart from movies, range from heavy metal and classical music to football, soccer, hockey, history, economics and obviously sex, a subject in which, like the Vicomte Sabastien de Valmont said of Madame de Volanges in Dangerous Liaisons, he is more noted for his enthusiasm than his ability. So be it. His DVD collection is growing to an acceptable size, and along the way he has noted that decades which begin with an odd number the 1950s, the 1970s and the 1990s are cinematically stronger than decades which begin with an even number. Therefore, he is anxiously awaiting 2010 and hopes still to be a Reject at that date.

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