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Film review: Beowulf (2007)

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World of Warcraft meets Lord of the Rings in this retelling of the classic Old English epic using motion capture technology.

The story is set in Heorot, in ye olde Denmark, where King Hroðgar (Anthony Hopkins) reigns. One night, the King and his thanes are raucously celebrating their victories in the mead (beer) hall when they unwittingly awaken their neighbour, Grendel (Crispin Glover), the village monster and long-time curse for the King. Grendel pays them a surprise visit, and rather than tell them to keep the noise down, tears the hall (and its folk) to bits.

What they need is a hero — enter Beowulf (Ray Winstone), a hero from Geatland. Beowolf succeeds in ridding the village of Grendel, but the nightmare has only just begun, with the vengeful wrath of Grendel’s dragon mother (Angelina Jolie) now inflamed. Beowulf faces the challenge of seduction and not physical prowess — question is, will he succeed?

Review

Having not read the epic, I’m not in a position to comment on the film’s interpretation of the story, and the poem has been the subject of literary debate spanning centuries (including Lord of the Rings, J R R Tolkein). There’s obviously quite a modern edge in this retelling, with its emphasis on the power of seduction (loving Jolie’s liquid gold stiletto feet). I also understand there’s been some not insignificant tweaking of the original plot.

The movie is a fantastic morality tale about the power of seduction and the true values of heroism. The hero here is fabulously human and famously flawed. These are inspiring threads in the film.

Like director Robert Zemeckis‘ other film, The Polar Express, Beowulf is filmed entirely using motion capture technology. This film really needs to be viewed as an animation to be truly appreciated. If you go looking for any realism, it will fall apart at the seams. The film is like a beautifully illustrated hard cover version of a classic tale. Motion capture also allows for some impressive camera movement, special effects and a complete makeover for normally tubby Ray Winstone.

Aside from that, Beowulf comes packaged with all the stunning features you’d expect from an epic — Wagnerian soundtrack, sweeping landscapes, raging beasts and an eye for historical detail (there’s some great illustration of life in the Viking age). A little unsuitable for younger audiences, however, with an ample share of gore and violence (Viking age).

It’s captivating, edge of the seat stuff.

We can look forward to a lot more from motion capture technology. Zemeckis is currently working on another classic tale — Dickens’ The Christmas Carol (for release in 2009). Director Tim Burton (Sweeney Todd, Edward Scissorhands) will also use motion capture technology to produce a animated version of another modern epic — Alice in Wonderland.

  • Take a sneak peak at Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, currently filming for a 2010 release date.
  • A blog is available with updates on Burton’s project.

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Written by Darren Smith

6 October 2008 at 9:34 pm

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