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Beowulf (Director's Cut) (2007)

A movie directed by Robert Zemeckis

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The Story of Beowulf Rendered With PULP Re-Imagining By Robert Zemeckis....

  • Jan 11, 2011
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 down through generations and it changed, and according to my research the original copy is more than a thousand years old. Some scholars do admit that the story has changed through the years, but the liberties taken by Neil Gaiman (The Sandman) and Roger Avary (Pulp Fiction) were almost so different from the original.

Yes, director Robert Zemeckis, together with Gaiman and Avary have made the CGI epic film “Beowulf” (this is a review of the director’s cut) a story about a deeply flawed man whose search for glory and immortality in song much to the detriment of those around him. In the exposition of his humanity, the inherent heroism of the fabled character of the poem is lost, but then, honestly, this is a more modern approach and made more accessible to the viewers of this much more modern age. The creators of this film clearly stated that this is a film made very different from the source material. Much as I acknowledge the fact that “Beowulf” (2007) is not a faithful rendition of the poem, I have to give Gaiman and Avary credit for making the film quite graspable as they reshape the premise of the poem to a more concise 2 hour animated film. The original “Clash of the Titans” was never completely faithful to Greek myth and DC Comics did a less than stellar adaptation of "Beowulf" in the 70's but I don’t see too many people complaining about them.

                  Ray Winstone and Anthony Hopkins in "Beowulf."

                 A scene from "Beowulf."

                 Ray Winstone in "Beowulf."

As I’ve stated, the story of “Beowulf” is known to most people but seeing as this film is a story about heroes being “human”; what comes is a story in a world filled with drinking, killing and “wenching” (I do see some behavioral similarities to Vikings). A decadent Danish kingdom is being ravaged by a hideous creature called Grendel and while many have tried to slay the beast, many have failed. The arrival of a monster slayer named Beowulf (voiced by Ray Winstone) bring them a glimmer of hope. This warrior is on the hunt for immortality in song and glory; he also exaggerates his conquests and his past victories and failings. Beowulf also eyes Hrothgar’s (Anthony Hopkins) riches, his queen (Robin Wright Penn) and this kingdom; He must face not only the grotesque creature called Grendel but his mother (Angelina Jolie) as well. The encounter between Beowulf and Grendel’s mother strays away from the poem. Grendel’s mother’s form of revenge would pit an older Beowulf to face his past sins and the remnants of his vanity and weaknesses.

                         Ray Winstone in "Beowulf."

                        Robin Wright Penn in "Beowulf."

                       Ray Winstone in "Beowulf."

I do appreciate the way the 3,000 line poem was reshaped into a more accessible epic fantasy. Again, I appreciate the efforts made by Gaiman and Avary, and please keep in mind that I never said they made the story better, but they told the same story in a different manner. They do take a more modern sensibility as Beowulf is revealed as a flawed hero; he is a braggart, somewhat greedy and thinks highly of himself. The epic poem was more bent on a story of heroism, and the changes the filmmakers behind “Beowulf” made may arguably work better as an animated film with an unrated stamp. I liked the way the film depicts these heroes known in legend as human; they are very flawed, proud and raw. They are soldiers who piss in a dark corner, they love women and mead, and even the men in Hrothgar’s kingdom were going for the woman within arm’s reach. Let’s be honest, if you truly imagine a world of monsters and where the shadow of war is always looming, I would think that it would be possible that soldiers of this period would be behaving this way.

The film focuses on spectacle, violence and entertainment value. It is set on violence and bloody battles where limbs are ripped off and blood and brains splattered across the screen. There is a startling degree of carnal lust and hints of nudity in the film as well. I suppose Zemeckis and company wanted to do a commentary on the barrenness of myth and legend, that heroism is a sham, that poet and song are naught but exaggerations and glorification of a seemingly unselfish deed. The action sequences are well-spaced out to keep the story at an even pace, and the heart-throbbing soundtrack just urges the viewer to get into the mood. There is nothing entirely wrong with an approach that focuses on spectacle, I like epic stories bathed in blood, violence and (ahem) sex, but now, we come to the film’s flaws.

                     Ray Winstone in "Beowulf."

                    Crispin Glover in "Beowulf."

I guess without the action, violence and blood-letting, I feel that the characterization is quite low and it renders the film to appear rather superficial. The digital recreations of Hopkins, Penn, Jolie and John Malkovich were so photo-realistic that the eye movements mimicked their gestures in real life. The animation of the characters were marvelously rendered, but the overall animated movements (overall motion capture in the film) felt rather stiff and sometimes too animated that I didn’t feel a hint of emotion and needed humanity in its drama. Yeah, it wasn’t perfect but it sure had its high points, as the creature designs were just jaw-dropping. The Grendel art rendering and the dragon designs were one of the best I’ve seen, the perspective of the scenes (see the arrows fly), the castles and landscapes looked exceptional; the set designs were impressive. Most of the scenes were embraced in darkness and I liked the way it made the blacks inky and the bright scenes colorful and yet muted (leans toward earth colors) to exude its mood.

I suppose I can say that Zemeckis’ “Beowulf” is a failure as an adaptation of the epic poem but it sure succeeded as a visceral action film. Hey, you should be grateful for a film like “Beowulf”; for in this age of mainstream watered-down films, it is refreshing to see Paramount stand behind a film with this much savagery and brutality. Its thin story is forgettable but the outstanding encounters are not. It is a pulp re-envisioning, re-imagination of the classic story and made more accessible to modern viewers. If you go to this film expecting a full adaptation, then you are looking at it from the wrong perspective and to expect something that wasn‘t meant to be in the first place, you are setting yourself up for your own disappointment. It is an animated film bent on delivering visual spectacle. “Beowulf’s” kinetic focus on unrelenting violence and jazzy animated effects makes it worth seeing at least once.

Recommended!! [3 ½ + Out of 5 Stars]
Poster art for "Beowulf." Poster art for "Beowulf."

The Story of Beowulf Rendered With PULP Re-Envisioning By Robert Zemeckis....

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January 11, 2011
Amazing review WP as always, I liked this one as well. I love the poem.
January 11, 2011
Great! So you finally saw it? Review, man...review!!
January 11, 2011
I think I wouldn't have been quite so hard on the film had they focused more on the Old English dialogue and less on the extraneous action. There were also a number of scenes where they tried to make the movie seem adult and sexy, but it was so watered down that it came of as, "Yeah, we want to get the teenagers in to the theaters with their girlfriends, so we have to avoid that R rating at all costs."
January 11, 2011
Dude, it is still an animated film after all, and in America you know what that means (why do you think I prefer anime?). But it is pretty graphic--licking mead off a woman's cleavage? As for the old English dialogue, you may find this interesting: http://www.heorot.dk/beo-intro-rede.html. This was posted when someone asked about Grendel's Old English banter in the film....
January 11, 2011
Yeah, but having Beowulf naked with strategically placed objects to cover his manhood (the shots of the candle and the sword were so funny, but not in a good way) is just the sort of stupid thing I'd expect to see on a lame cable channel and much of the lusty antics aren't even relevant to the plot. This film should have decided whether it wanted to be an R-rated barbarian film with nudity and graphic violence or a PG-13 teenager action flick or an epic that faithfully follows the original poem. As far as I'm concerned, it tried to be all three and failed as such.
January 11, 2011
Yeah, I thought those were funny as well. As for the PG-13 vs. R-rated thingie, I cannot say anything about that since I only saw the unrated director's cut; the version before the MPAA decided to play its hand (this dvd was separate from the theatrical release dvd), and I hate that . What I saw was, it played like an R-rated film, and while I see your point, I do see the lusty antics as part of its characterization (however irrelevant they may seem to others)--these were barbarians after all.
January 11, 2011
Yes, but they were meant to be portrayed as noble albeit susceptible to human frailty. They came off as a bunch of horny, hedonistic thugs with a penchant for chasing skirts and slaying beasts.
January 11, 2011
Good point, but with me I took the film as "nobility isn't as advertised" and that sometimes stories are just stories and the men behind those stories as flawed as hell. Heroes are different from warriors is what Gaiman is trying to say perhaps.
January 11, 2011
I'm not even sure how much of Gaiman's version is left in the film. What I saw seemed much more in the same vein as what Roger Avary writes. Had Gaiman been more prominent then I think we could have at least expected some dark humor or witty dialogue, but the film is pretty much humorless. I expect that one day the Beowulf legend will be retold and eventually someone will get it right.
January 11, 2011
I believe Gaiman did the plotting and story while Avary did the dialogue so you may have a point there. The plot is similar to Gaiman's short story "Bay Wolf" a re-telling of this epic poem and what happened between Beowulf and Grendel's mother.
January 11, 2011
Woop- dazzling review my man. I'm noticing below that a lot of our fellow reviewers were less than impressed with this one but I enjoyed it just like you did. In fact I feel like Robert Zemeckis' technique of combining live-action performances with modern CG animation took this one to a place that would have been achievable no other way (I also loved it in Polar Express and Monster House especially as well). I also appreciated the visuals to accompany a setting that was never really clear to me in the classic tome: That of Grendel's mother's underwater domain. Plus need I even mention Angelina's nude body? Score! Anyway, just a stellar review. So accurate to my own feelings in fact that there is no longer a need for me to give it go as doing so would be a copy/paste affair.
January 11, 2011
Thanks, Jason. I liked this one as well. The CGI animation was a little of a mixed bag but it was still impressive. I liked this one, and yes, it was flawed. I think the best way to approach such a film is to allow oneself to be dazzled by its spectacle, it is an animated CGI film after all-worth $ 150 million to make. It wasn't faithful to the poem but then again, the filmmakers said they never wanted to make one that portrayed the poem. I told you I am going back to some animated movies. But I still want to read your review...

Thanks for the read, man. Hey check this out--you may want to see it with your significant other.
More Beowulf reviews
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 . January 13, 2008
posted in Movie Hype
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 …
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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