Probably the first question you’ll find yourself asking while watching Beowulf is “Why didn’t they just film it live-action?” Because the action-fantasy is the most realistic looking animated movie ever made.

As with director Robert Zemeckis’s previous animated film, The Polar Express, Beowulf has been created by first motion capturing the performances of actors like Anthony Hopkins, Angelina Jolie, Robin Wright Penn and Beowulf himself, Ray Winstone. With the exception of Winstone, all the characters played by these stars closely resemble their real life counterpart, which makes you wonder why they weren’t just filmed normally in the first place.

Once the action kicks off however, it becomes clear why Zemeckis would choose such an unusual technique for this adaptation of a centuries’ old, epic English poem – which focuses on the monster-fighting exploits of a Scandinavian hero with a weakness for beautiful women.

For one thing the animated format fits perfectly with the mythic nature of the story and dialogue that would probably sound cheesy in a conventional film. Computer animation also allows Zemeckis to pull off impressive, sweeping camera motions that would be impossible to achieve otherwise.

What’s perhaps most interesting is that CGI-animation somehow allows Zemeckis to get away with unexpectedly extreme content. Despite having just a PG-13 age restriction Beowulf is one of the most graphically violent and sexually suggestive movies of the year. Blood pools on the camera lens, limbs are severed with ease and at one point the title character bursts out of a sea monster’s head by stabbing through its eye. Video game fans will receive a strong God of War vibe from certain scenes.

Beowulf also has a surprising number of laugh-out-loud moments. Most of these stem from the audacity of what you’re seeing in an animated movie. This includes warriors commenting on the heaving cleavage of a servant woman, and a complex battle sequence in which Beowulf fights completely nude against the grotesquely deformed demon Grendel.

Beowulf is very much an animated movie for adults – adults who have a healthy respect for animation as a serious entertainment medium.

It’s also a movie very much like its hero: unquestionably ambitious and courageous, but flawed in some respects. With the exception of Angelina Jolie’s gold-streaked demon (who has very little screen time), the faces of the female characters are mask-like and inexpressive, which blunts the dramatic impact of certain quieter scenes. The mishmash of accents is also quite jarring.

Once the action surges to full intensity though, you forget these weaknesses and succumb to the stunning visuals. And special credit should also go to the filmmakers for bringing a considerable amount of depth to the title character, who is admirably honourable but also tragically flawed.

If you’re a fan of stylised (and very bloody) fantasy epics like Conan the Barbarian and 300, you’ll thoroughly enjoy Beowulf. For anyone else Beowulf is still a brave, experimental film worth seeing.


Anonymous said…
has anyone heard of giving out a free screening of beowulf and drinks?

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