Now Showing at: most major theaters.
Review by: Larry Thomas
In what might be considered medieval times in the US…you know, the 1950s… comic books were extremely popular. There were the funny ones, the scary ones, and the superhero sagas. There was also a series called “Classics Illustrated,” which was a couple of steps down from Cliff Notes versions of great literature. For 20 cents, you could get a condensed, illustrated version of “A Tale of Two Cities” or “Last of the Mohicans.” Some 50 years later comes a film of Beowulf, the epic poem about a brave hero who battles the creature Grendel. In some literature courses, Beowulf has been required reading, although most students have probably opted for the aforementioned Cliff Notes rather than wade through the Old English text. The Beowulf film is like combining the “Classics Illustrated” comics with one of the horror comics, such as “Tales from the Crypt.”
To bring Beowulf to the big screen, director Robert Zemeckis has turned to the process of performance capture animation. Live actors are filmed so their features are distinguishable, then manipulated in a computer to give them their necessary costumes and movement, so that they will integrate with the animated monsters and demons. Zemeckis has dabbled in integrated animation for years, most notably in the terrific Who Framed Roger Rabbit, which is his best film to date. He became intrigued with performance capture animation when making The Polar Express in 2004, and Beowulf takes his craft one step further.
To fully appreciate the film, it really should be experienced in IMAX 3-D, which is only available at the Showcase Springdale. Other theatres are showing it in either digital 3-D, or regular 35mm non-3D prints.
A stellar cast was captured to tell the Beowulf tale. British actor Ray Winstone is the title character, with assistance from Anthony Hopkins, Brenden Gleeson, Robin Wright Penn, John Malkovich, Crispin Glover and Angelina Jolie. Needless to say, as with virtually any mega-budget commercial film, the script has been dumbed down, and the action accelerated. Some of the 3D effects are very exciting, while others, which fail to impress, seem blurry and out-of-focus. The climactic dragon, and ensuing battle, is terrific, and is one of the best movie dragons ever. Even though it’s a digital animation, the creature is reminiscent of some of the best work of stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen. At other times, things are just thrown at the camera for action’s sake, just like they used to do in 1950s 3D movies. Another plus for Beowulf is the excellent score by composer Alan Silvestri, who made a big impression with his music for Sam Raimi’s The Qick and the Dead.
On the minus side is the slow pace of the film’s first half, and its excessive gore, violence, lust and nudity in a film that is rated PG-13. Granted, it’s animated, but still disturbing if you are averse to watching people dismembered, blood gushing, and the creature Grendel appearing as if he were a half-eaten corpse. It was very off-putting to be watching a film with such extreme content in a theatre with so many young children in attendance. Yes, kids these days are more accustomed to such images, but is that necessarily a good thing?
While Beowulf is a mish-mash of a film, with enough good stuff to recommend the IMAX 3D version, it’s certainly not something you want to take your young kids to.
Beowulf is now playing everywhere, but not every theatre has the same format available. Be sure to check with the theatre you are going to attend and ask how you will be seeing Beowulf. It does make a difference.