Robert Zemeckis had directed a handful of movies which I have enjoyed over the years, with what I thought to be one of the best trilogies out there with Back to the Future (the Power of Love anyone?), and a couple of Tom Hanks movies like Forrest Gump and Cast Away, and teaming with Hanks to make The Polar Express, where Zemeckis ventures into the territory of motion capture animation. He continues that effort with Beowulf, a take on the legendary warrior now given the spin by writers Neil Gaiman (whose Stardust is still playing in theatres) and Roger Avary.
As the story goes, King Hrothgar's (Anthony Hopkins) Danish kingdom is under constant threat from a butt-ugly creature called Grendel (voiced by Crispin Glover, which I swear you'll find it hard to make out what it's actually saying), who hates the kingdom's merry making, and plays party pooper by massacring the King's men. So when all hope is lost, Hrothgar sends word out that worldly rewards be bestowed upon anyone who can rid his Kingdom of the demon. Enter Beowulf (Ray Winstone), a medieval Constantine and his band of merry Vikings, who volunteer their service. Think of it as Leonidas and his 300 men (here it's only 14), a group of professional soldier of fortune whose aim in life is to seek out adventure, and to gloriously die in battles.
But there's a little bit of mystery added to why Grendel has such affinity to mass destruction, and soon Beowulf learns exactly why temptation is hard to resist, especially if it comes in the form of a naked Angelina Jolie as Grendel's Mother, oozing sex, strange accent and dripping wet, a hybrid of the world's sexiest woman, and a lizard (thank goodness it's just that slinky tail), an object of lustful desire. In fact, the leads have a penchant of getting naked, and Beowulf's habit of stripping and showing off his well buffed body, has the filmmakers employ somewhat unintentionally comedic moments to utilize objects in the scene to preserve his modesty (think Austin Powers style), and I most certainly am curious if successfully slaying demons will give him a hard on, ha!
It visits the theme of the greed of man, whether you're willing to compromise, lie and boast about false achievements (hang your head, all those of you who artificially spruce up your work resume) in order to gain recognition, fame, fortune and the likes. And of course, what you do echoes in eternity (OK, so I borrowed that from somewhere else), and the sins of the father will come back to haunt you, naturally. There are those who can be trusted, but sleeping with the enemy is just asking for it. But this movie isn't titled Beowulf for nothing, and given his exploits in this movie, with actually only 2 major action sequence involving the titular character, I suppose a Beowulf action figure will sell like hot cakes. One thing's for sure though, this movie puts Eragon's monster lizard to shame, even though the latter had more of such flying creatures, but this one's the one that has "menacing" written all over its wings.
The animation here is top notch, and flawless, especially when projected on a 4K Digital theatre hall, where I viewed Beowulf in. Audiences here no longer have an IMAX cinema with 3D, and I would have loved to watch this movie in that format instead, given the number of identified moments that would have gotten the 3D treatment. But still, a digital projection at that 4K level of detail, is close to excellence par none. I do not know how much more can it be bumped up before our eyes can tell the difference no longer. Every image is so sharp, that some might complain it loses the warmth that film gives you. And I for one always thought that animation in motion capture format, is somewhat "cheating", where the actors already provide you the template to add on fanciful colors and make believe environments, leaving very little detail for the animator to fill. Still, the film is in the running for nomination in next year's Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature, and while I expect nomination to be a shoo-in, stiff competition is abound to actually win it.
However, I thought this Beowulf might find it hard pressed for second helpings, and there aren't many Jolie-less scenes or action sequences that make this truly memorable after the end credits roll. Worth a watch for an out-and-out action flick in the vein of 300, but offers very little else. Even the supposed love entanglements with Wealthow (Robin Wright Penn) and Ursula (Alison Lohman) fell through without some devotion of screentime, and the fast forwarding in the middle of the movie, doesn't help a lot too.