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Beowulf (Director's Cut) (2007)

A movie directed by Robert Zemeckis

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True Heroes Apparently Don't Exist

  • Jan 13, 2008
The story of Beowulf is the oldest story of the English language. It's an epic story about a heroic man who seems capable of doing supernatural deeds. When I was a senior in high school I read Beowulf for the first time and loved the story and themes the story was about. I enjoyed reading the story even more years later in college when I had an opportunity to read a few portions in the original Old English. I enjoyed the story just as much a few later when I read Semus Heaney's translation soon after it was published. The story is a grand one and is an archetype of a grand heroic epic. One would think that someone would use the story to write a great script and make a great movie. Several film adaptations have been made of the story, but none of them have been very good. Most of them have attempted to add their own twist on the story and in doing so ruin the essence of the epic nature of the story (the closest film adaptation of the story is THE 13TH WARRIOR with Antonio Banderas and Beowulf isn't even a character). Therefore, I was very excited to learn that Robert Zemeckis (BACK TO THE FUTURE, FORREST GUMP, CASTAWAY) was making a new animated version of the story using his new ground-breaking CGI process. When I learned that Neil Gaiman was one of the screenwriters, I became even more interested in the movie. However, like many films released in 2007, BEOWULF just didn't live up to the hype.

The setting is in a remote part of Denmark sometime during the Dark Ages. King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins), his wife Wealthow (Robin Wright Penn), and his subjects are having a major celebration triumphing the completion of the new mead hall, Heorot. Hrothgar becomes heavily inebriated as do his men and the beginnings of an orgy ensue. But the celebration has awakened a giant monster, Grendel (Crispin Glover), from his peaceful slumber. Grendel barges into Heorot and no one is able to stop him. The people flee and Heorot is sealed shut.

The story fast-forwards to the arrival of Beowulf (Ray Winston). Beowulf has come to slay the beast Grendel and bring peace to Hrothgar's kingdom. Beowulf fights the monster naked and as the creature flees he traps its arm in a door and removes it. It appears that life can return to normal, but there is something rotten in the state of Denmark: Grendel's mother (Angelina Jolie) lives and seeks revenge for the death of her son. Traveling with his faithful companion Wiglaf (Brendan Gleeson), Beowulf tracks the monster to the cave where she resides. The creature isn't exactly like he imagined. Beowulf is tempted and has to make a choice. Beowulf learns a terrible secret while in the cave.

Years later, Beowulf is now an old man and King of the Danes. He is married to Wealthow and they have no children. They love each other, but Beowulf if full of vices and has had many mistresses. The kingdom has grown and become strong. But a new evil in the form of a dragon threatens that prosperity. Beowulf has to face the creature and make amends with his past.

Most of the discussion about BEOWULF has been about the animation. Some people love it, some think it is terrible. There's no doubt that the film further pushes the envelope of the use of technology in filmmaking. I found the animation to be incredible realistic, almost too much so. At times the film seemed to be a surreal dream. Also, the characters eyes don't convey much emotion and therefore at times it feels like one is watching an extended video game sequence rather than an entire movie. Despite that, I was neither impressed by the animation nor turned off by it.

What disappointed me about the movie was the story. For example, the film turns Grendel's mother into a beautiful woman that seduced Hrothgar and attempts to seduce Beowulf. Beowulf is supposed to kill her, not sleep with here. I was also disappointed in the death of Hrothgar and Beowulf becoming King of the Danes. In the original story, Beowulf returns to his own people and becomes their King. He fights off giants and invaders and lives a very happy life and brings prosperity to his kingdom. When the dragon comes, everyone but Wiglaf forsakes him and because he seems to always do the right thing, he tracks the creature to it's lair and fights it. No major film version of Beowulf has ever told the story the way it was originally told. BEOWULF could have, but instead decided to "update" the story with a "modern" approach. Beowulf in this movie is a hero, but he is not an epic hero. Instead, he's watered down with lustful longings, lying boasts, jealous cravings, and greed-filled dreams. One of the reasons I always liked the story of Beowulf is because he is a character that one wants to try to be like; at times his life seems inhuman, but he is an ideal, a person to pattern one's life after. BEOWULF takes all of that away from Beowulf and makes the character just an ordinary man who happens to be really, really strong.

Other than the perhaps the animation, the most impressive thing about the movie is the music. The instrumentals are full of majesty and the vocal numbers, especially those sung by Robin Wright Penn, are full of wistful longing.

The film is rated PG-13, but should have been rated R. There's lots of graphic violence, many overt sexual allusions, and even some full frontal nudity.

Overall, BEOWULF tries to be ground-breaking movie that is the penultimate film adaptation of the classic story, but instead is just an expensive imitation like all the movie versions that have come before.

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January 11, 2011
nice write up and I am glad to see that I wasn't the only one who noticed the music's power. I liked this one, but I can see why so many people had mixed reactions.
More Beowulf reviews
review by . January 11, 2011
The Story of Beowulf Rendered With PULP Re-Envisioning By Robert Zemeckis....
Everyone knows the story of “Beowulf”, most folks have read the epic poem when they were in high school, I have read the story in Bulfinch’s mythology and movies such as “Beowulf and Grendel” have portrayed the poem to a much more accurate degree albeit it was met with mixed reviews. This story (known as “Song of Beowulf” to some) may be the oldest written story in Northern Europe and was a strong part of its oral history. Eventually the story has been passed …
Quick Tip by . February 03, 2010
A flat, shallow piece of filmmaking that relies too heavily on spectacle & not enough on story. A very weak treatment of the epic poem.
review by . April 03, 2010
When I was but a callow freshman my mother, an archetypal Danish monster*, meaning well, made me sign up for a Mediaeval English Literature class. At the time this aggrieved me, but despite myself I enjoyed it immensely, and especially the really old bits - derived from Icelandic and Old High German, prominent among them Snorri Sturluson's sagas in which people ritually burn each other and the anonymous Danish legend Beowulf. It's a great story, even in its original old English (which considerably …
review by . November 15, 2008
Hrothgar the King, he built a new hall   For frolicking, drinking and fun   He stocked it with mead, and opened the doors   And soon the par-tay had begun     Grendel the monster awakes from his sleep   Disturbed by the noise from Heorot   He slashes and slays until Hrothgar appears   And challenges him there on the spot     Grendel and Hrothgar, they stand eye to eye   Then Grendel runs …
review by . August 08, 2008
Numerous takes have been done on the Beowulf legend, but this is probably the most expensive one to date, and surely the most ironic one to date, in that it is animated, yet primarily for adults. The twist on the story is new, Beowulf sleeps with Grendel's mother, who in turn bears a dragon as a child. Beowulf then dies while stopping the dragon from destroying his kingdom.     Several things to know before watching this movie. First of, don't let the kids watch it. The amount …
review by . March 18, 2008
posted in Movie Hype
I am Ripper... Tearer... Slasher... Gouger. I am the Teeth in the Darkness, the Talons in the Night. Mine is Strength... and Lust... and Power! I AM BEOWULF!     Easily the best line from a movie that I can remember and this is one of the many reasons why I gave this film a 5 star rating.    For those who aren't familiar with the notion of Beowulf, let me fill you in and give you the lowdown of where it all came from. Beowulf is an epic poem without an author, …
review by . November 16, 2007
Pros: Amazing FX     Cons: May be to violent for some.     The Bottom Line: A solid film that delivers the goods.     Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie''s plot. The classic Epic poem Beowulf has come to the big screen in a stunning CGI extravaganza under the direction of Director Robert Zemeckis.      For those not familiar with the poem, it is an ancient Danish poem that talks of the heroic …
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Spectacular animated action scenes turn the ancient epic poemBeowulfinto a modern fantasy movie, while motion-capture technology transforms plump actor Ray Winstone (Sexy Beast) into a burly Nordic warrior. When a Danish kingdom is threatened by the monster Grendel (voiced and physicalized by Crispin Glover,River's Edge), Beowulf--lured by the promise of heroic glory--comes to rescue them. He succeeds, but falls prey to the seductive power of Grendel's mother, played by Angelina Jolie... and as Jolie's pneumatically animated form rises from an underground lagoon with demon-claw high heels, it becomes clear that we're leaving the original epic far, far behind. Regrettably, the motion-capture process has made only modest improvements sinceThe Polar Express; while the characters' eyes no longer look so flat and zombie-like, their faces remain inexpressive and movements are still wooden. As a result, the most effective sequences feature wildly animated battles and the most vivid character is Grendel, whose grotesqueness ends up making him far more sympathetic than any of the mannequin-like human beings. The meant-to-be-titillating images of a naked Jolie resemble an inflatable doll more than a living, breathing woman (or succubus, as the case may be). But the fights--particularly Grendel's initial assault on the celebration hut--pop with lushly animated gore and violence. Also featuring the CGI-muffled talents of Anthony Hopkins (Silence of the Lambs), ...
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Director: Robert Zemeckis
Screen Writer: Roger Avary, Anonymous, Neil Gaiman
DVD Release Date: February 26, 2008
Runtime: 115 minutes
Studio: Paramount Home Entertainment
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