Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
Actors: Ray Winstone, Crispin Glover, Angelina Jolie, Anthony Hopkins, John Malkovich
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Genres: Action & Adventure, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Animation
Studio: Paramount Home Video Release Date: 07/29/2008 Run time: 114 minutes Rating: Ur
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Holding Out for a Hero
Chris Pandolfi | Los Angeles, CA | 11/16/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Written around 700 AD and being of unknown authorship, "Beowulf" may be one of the purest fantasies ever told--it was one of the first to tell the story of a warrior who fought demons and a dragon. In the hands of director Robert Zemeckis and screenwriters Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary, the story transcends what we might have envisioned when reading the epic poem. This latest film adaptation is a triumph of classic storytelling, giving us a both hero to root for and monsters to be afraid of; it's a story told in the language of entertainment, having the power to capture its audience with compelling characters and breathtaking visuals. It's an honest to goodness fable that tells it like it is, completely free of long-winded setups and complicated details.
Relying on the same motion capture technique he utilized in "The Polar Express," Zemeckis has crafted an entirely computer generated film that has an appropriately surreal look. This is especially true of the characters, which exist in a gray area between the realistic and the fantastic; they don't look phony by any means, but they're not completely authentic, either. I suppose part of this can be blamed on the limits of computer technology, which still isn't able to fool an audience despite major advances. The thing is, I don't think the film should have looked too realistic, simply because it's telling an unrealistic story. "Beowulf" is a purely imaginative piece, and as such, the film needed a purely imaginative look. Zemeckis chose to make the entire thing one big special effect--there are no individual effects that enhance live-action scenes.
Taking place in the sixth century, Ray Winstone voices the title character with the perfect mix of pride, arrogance, and youthful impulsiveness. He also gives Beowulf a hard-edged masculinity that's just as expected as it is cliché. Upon hearing that a monster is terrorizing a Danish kingdom, Beowulf and his Geat men come to the rescue. His motives are purely ego driven--he only wants to fight in glorious battle and be remembered for it. Stories of his past battles make this clear because they're all so dramatic, downright boastful. Basically, it's obvious that he's exaggerating practically everything he says to make himself look more like a hero. All arrogance aside, he does believe himself capable of killing the creature that attacked the mead hall of the drunken, disgraced King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins) and the quiet, suspicious Wealthow (Robin Wright Penn).
This creature is Grendel (Crispin Glover), a character that, like Frankenstein's Monster, is hideous yet pathetic. He's a grotesque sight to behold: he's massive, hunched over, and deformed, bearing little if any resemblance to a human being. His soft, pitiful voice--which speaks in a Scandinavian tongue--is pretty much his only connection to the rest of us. Here's a character that's truly nightmarish in appearance. And when his anger is added to the mix, it gets even worse; he loses control at the sounds of merrymaking, forcing him to retreat from his cave and attack the mead hall. As he breaks through the wooden door, the orange flames in the fire pit become a cold blue that engulf everything surrounding it. Beowulf is able to lure Grendel back by making his men sing, after which the two engage in fierce combat. Because Grendel has no armor or weapons, Beowulf decides to "fight him on equal terms" by stripping completely naked. How this was necessary, I have no idea, but I guess it doesn't really matter.
It's only after the battle is finished that Beowulf learns of Grendel's mother (Angelina Jolie), a seductive water demon whose feminine curves are accented by shifting slivers of gold paint. Her hair ends as a living, tentacle-like ponytail, and her feet are naturally high heeled. When Beowulf first meets her, he carries a golden horn given by Hrothgar as a gift; in the presence of Grendel's mother, the horn glows like molten metal, just as the water she emerges from becomes a phosphorescent blue. In this strange yet magically erotic atmosphere, she temps Beowulf with promises of fame and fortune. At what price, no one can say, but considering how fiercely protective she was of her son, I think it's safe to assume that it'll be quite high.
When the film flashes forward by a number of years, signs of Beowulf's age are not the only differences--his views on glory, battle, and fame have changed, forcing him to wonder if his years of arrogance were worth it. At one time, he would scream, "I am Beowulf!" at the drop of a hat, but now, there doesn't seem to be any reason to do that anymore. It doesn't help that he's keeping a big secret, one he's held onto for many years. The arrival of a monstrous fire-breathing dragon brings his past back up to the surface, and he must face it whether or not he's ready to.
But to face his past is to redefine what it means to be a hero. The young Beowulf believed it was all about winning battles, but the older Beowulf begins to feel that there's something more to it, something that doesn't rely on physical brute force and bloodshed. In Zemeckis' film, Beowulf is just like any character on a Hero's Journey: he matures as his quest nears its end. He looks back on what he's been through and is able to draw strength from it. This well-established narrative formula is one of the things that make "Beowulf" an incredibly enjoyable film; it follows the most basic rules of fantasy storytelling, which is both necessary and effective. This movie thoroughly accomplishes what it set out to accomplish--it's an engaging, exciting, and highly artistic vision, made with style and precision. Odin be praised."
Way Worse Than I Expected
Keira Dodd | 08/10/2008
(1 out of 5 stars)
"Originally, when I heard a Beowulf movie was being made, I was excited. I'm an English teacher, and I teach Beowulf to my high school seniors. I was really looking forward to obtaining a version that I could show to my classes. Plus, I'm a bit of a nerd and have always liked the story. Beowulf is quite literally the quintessential Western hero, and when I teach Beowulf, I love to talk about how he is basically an ancient superhero, complete with super strength, super looks, and super values. Although he loves the gold a little too much and although he craves glory for himself, he is supremely loyal to his people and to his king. He's a boaster, but he's a boaster who actually lives up to his own hype. His story has inspired people for over a thousand years and continues to inspire me as I teach it to my students. The story itself is basically flawless. It has action, it has gore, it has everything teenagers love about adventure flicks... AND it also has amazing academic value. When you teach Beowulf, you have to teach Joseph Campbell and the hero's journey. You have to talk about the Anglo Saxons and their history. You have to delve into women's roles in that society and relate that to how the females in the story, especially Grendel's mother, are portrayed... and there's so much more!
But to get back to the movie, everything that I mentioned above-- all that I love about the original story of Beowulf-- was either deleted or destroyed in this version of the story. I knew that this version was going to be "different" when I saw that Angelina Jolie was cast as Grendel's mother, but I tried to have an open mind. Maybe they would provide an interesting interpretation of the story that I could discuss with my classes. I didn't see the movie in the theaters because I was too worried I'd be disappointed, but I encouraged my students to see it. Literally every student who saw the movie came back and told me that it was awful, which intrigued me. Normally most students like the movie versions of the books I teach simply because they are more visual and therefore easier to grasp than the original stories. I was curious why the students hated this particular movie so much. Months later when I finally got around to seeing it, I discovered what about the movie made it so terrible... and that was everything.
I mean what I say. The soundtrack was awful and made many scenes seem laughable. The CG was distracting and inappropriate. It made the story appear childish and stupid. And what they did to the story itself... as an English teacher, I was horrified. HORRIFIED! They took away everything that was good about the original story. For example, instead of Beowulf catching Grendel unawares, appearing to be asleep and then grabbing Grendel by the arm, Beowulf meets Grendel standing up as Grendel proceeds to kill three of his warriors. Then Beowulf uses a chain and the door of the hall to cut off Grendel's arm. In the story Beowulf does it with his bare hands. Now granted, one of the main points of this movie is that Beowulf is a braggart who says things happened that didn't, and I might have been able to accept that if the movie didn't continue in that vain and make things even worse. The "battle" with Grendel's mother in particular was such a travesty that I could barely continue to watch the film. Instead of fighting her, almost dying, and finally using a giant's sword to cut off her head, Beowulf only says he killed her and instead sleeps with her, siring a son who eventually becomes the dragon that he kills later in the movie. WHAT?! I mean, really? You had to change the story that much? The scene in which he gives in to her is so terrible that it's not to be believed. Grendel's mother promises Beowulf that she will make him a king and make his name last forever if only he will give her a son, and without much struggle, he just gives in. However, even the Beowulf from earlier in the film would never have done that. That Beowulf would have laughed at her and said that he could make himself famous, that he didn't need her to do anything for him. If nothing else, Beowulf should be confident in his own abilities. Why does he need to sleep with a water wench when he could bring himself glory without cursing himself and fathering a bastard demon child?
I can see what Zemeckis was trying to do with this version. He was trying to humanize Beowulf. He even has Beowulf tell Wealtheow, who somehow becomes his wife in this version (after Hrothgar kills himself!), to remember him as a flawed man, not a hero or a king. However, the appeal of the Beowulf story is that he IS a hero, that he's more than your average, everyday man. When he gives in to Grendel's mother in this version, part of me wanted to cry inside, if not yell and shake Zemeckis for destroying yet another hero, tearing him down from the heavens and rolling him in the filth of everyday, petty human existence. Heroes are supposed to be more than that. What Zemeckis did to Beowulf would be like making Superman a secret crack dealer or Batman a peddler in kiddie porn. Maybe most people have dirty secrets like that, but heroes aren't supposed to, and if they do, no one wants to hear about it, especially not me.
This movie seems to me to be exactly what is wrong with our post modern world. We say we want to know everything, that we don't want lies, and that heroes don't exist. They're too good. No one's that good. Yet the possibility of goodness does exist, if only we let our heroes show us the way. True, heroes may be flawed, but it isn't their flaws that inspire us. It's the way they overcome their flaws, and in doing so, they vanquish that which oppresses. They fight and fall and rise again. They live to fight another day, and they don't give up, nor do they give in. This Beowulf gave in way too easily. He wasn't a hero. He wasn't even that interesting. He gave in to a sexy woman, as most men might, and he lied about it. Sure, he killed a few monsters, but he exaggerated about how he did it. He was small-minded and greedy, too things that Beowulf is definitely not supposed to be. Beowulf is supposed to be larger than life, and from the first moment you meet him in this movie, Beowulf seems small and boring and normal... very underwhelming.
I'm a person who strongly believes that the world needs heroes, and I think our society is starting to wake up and realize that, too. Why else would superhero movies be making so much money these days? If anything, Zemeckis and company should have been smart enough to capitalize on that market. We all need someone to look up to, someone to believe in to make life meaningful. Superheroes give us that. They may not exist in real life, but what they represent does. They represent goodness and decency, and anyone can be good and decent if they really want to be. Beowulf is the original superhero. Why not make a movie that emphasizes that in some way? You don't need to change the story to make it great. It already is great, or else it wouldn't have lasted this long. Just tell the story as it's meant to be told. That's the version I'm waiting for, but unfortunately because of this crappy version, I'll probably be waiting for a long time.
In conclusion, don't see this movie. It's not even bad enough to be funny. It's just bad, and it ruins a good story that deserved better. If I had to give it a grade, I'd give it an F-."
Beowulf - Amazing in 3D, New Take on a Classic Tale
Mark | East Coast | 12/30/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Beowulf is a new version of a classic tale. The animation style really comes to life when seen in Imax 3D. This is one movie worth seeing in the theatre and owning in HD.
There are three groups who will want to see Beowulf no matter what reviewers think: those who loved the Polar Express (same creators, same animation style), those who love mythology and war movies, and those who love Angelina Jolie. And yet the real reason to see this movie should attract a much wider audience: this is a visually stunning "video game" on the movie screen. While any new take on a classic tale will upset purists, this movie is worth suspending disbelief for the entertainment value.
The animation of the film is very "cartoon" and "video game like." While that may not satisfy those who are looking for entirely realistic CGI effects, it is an artistic form that is very compelling when seen in Imax 3D. Clearly, the technology will improve in future movies. Regardless, the creativity and artistry of this movie should be appreciated for what it is.
There are many 3D elements that leap out at viewers. If they added smells and water spray it would be very similar to some Disney World 3D movies. My only curiousity is how (if at all) they plan on making the 3D experience available to home viewers
The score is very well put together and complements the movie experience. There is a lot of driving heart pounding composition, almost operatic in nature. And there are also soft pensive songs. In any case, the music is also well appreciated in a theatre, and sets this version apart from previous ones all on its own.
Acting and Direction
The acting is really well tailored for the film, in as much as CGI can be. Really, this is an accomplishment in direction and film editing. You will find yourself asking, "who is that actor who plays Beowulf?" And when you see Ray Winstone in real life, you will be even more amazed. Robing Wright Penn as the queen and Anthony Hopkins as the king give the most classic expressive performances of the group. And unfortunately for the Jolie fans out there, her role is somewhat minor in the scope of this movie.
Those who read Beowulf will leave with a certain feeling of "Huh?" after seeing this movie. The story has been changed, but in a purposeful way. It is true that Beowulf comes across as more vulnerable than in the original accounts. In the end, I defer to the creators. They have created a different version of this story that should be appreciated on it's own. Purists aside, it's an interesting take on the tale.
Overall, this is a great entertainment movie. See it in the theatre, get the DVD in HD, and marvel at how far we've come in the worlds of animation, computing and entertainment.
Blemished as a Version of the Epic Poem, but Still Very Fun
Kasey Driscoll | 05/05/2008
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Beowulf is a great story, it would not have lasted over thousand years if it wasn't. This 2007 all CGI version deviates considerably from the original story's truest and perhaps even its most enduring elements. The villain Grendel is portrayed as if we have the opportunity to sympathize with him. I remember upon his first attack in this film thinking that the Grendel from the epic poem would never have been so bold as to attack while his enemies were not asleep. Never would he come face to face with King Hrothgar on his throne. He is a cowardly and vile monster. I also remember studying Beowulf and thinking that this is the ultimate pagan hero. Courageous even if to a fault, boisterously politicizing himself to the gods by listing off each of his own unearthly tasks, challenging any evil no matter what it may be, even if it looks exactly like a naked Angelina Jolie. Most of all, he was to be a shining example of pride and honesty. It's funny, until now I never realized how I may have idolized Beowulf during my High School readings but just like those young pagan lads a thousand years ago listening to tales of the great warrior around a giant bonfire, I guess in a way I did and still do. The Beowulf we get here is tricked and tormented and his time as king is essentially based on deception. He is flawed in ways that make him less a hero.
There is something to admire in that fearless definition of heroism held up high in the original tale. Something even more endearing about this ultimate clash between good and evil. Something got lost in the transition from ancient Anglo-Saxon scribes to the capable pens of Neil Gaiman and Roger Avery, who wrote the solid but fundamentally flawed screenplay. Their writing makes for a great popcorn movie but I'm quite sure English scholars are not so impressed. In fact, this will definitely not and should not be shown by teachers or professors to compliment the study of this epic poem.
Still, Beowulf as a film is a back-to-back feast for the eyes. It is a beautiful film and I also believe its style to be a worthy standard to uphold for other action filmmakers in the years to come. I was worried right off that bat that Beowulf would be a two-hour video game cut scene, but it manages to transcend that judgement with time. The characters may be quasi-cartoon but they still hold more spirit than many cartoons have the ability to by far. Ray Winstone is Beowulf and his demeanor is nearly perfect. Anthony Hopkins and John Malkovich, as Hrothgar and Unferth respectively, both shine through their computerized characters more than enough. Both actors bring the overall performances in this film to attention, as both are just that good at their craft. Crispin Glover manages Grendel fantastically and the Grendel here is quite visually satisfying considering I've never had a strong enough imagination to picture Grendel myself based on the descriptions in literature. Angelina Jolie is certainly good enough for her role, as flawed as it may be. Grendel's mother is actually the character changed most of all, but as a separate villain from the epic poem, the character is not only crucial to Gaiman and Avery's story, but actually quite effective. Oh yes, and what epic film with bearded warriors would be complete without everyone's favorite brute from the early middle ages, Brendan Gleeson (as Wiglaf)?!
Overall, it is a tribute in some ways to the great story but on the other hand the way it sacrifices the purity of its characters just to create a convenient story, a gripping visual style, and a well-packaged blockbuster troubles me enough to only give a slight recommendation. Also, wait for this on blu-ray if you want it (if it ever comes in that format), I really can't see any reason not to unless you need it right away. There is an HD DVD version available."