The classic tale of epic proportions is finally given an on screen treatment of equal measure.
“Beowulf,” the epic poem by Anonymous, has been through numerous literary translations as different scholars interpret the Old English text. Cult icon Neil Gaiman and co-writer Roger Avary approach the film’s screenplay as a contemporary retelling of the hero’s adventures, taking some liberties to fill gaps in the poem’s narrative.
The brave Viking Beowulf (Ray Winstone) travels from Geatland to rid King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins) of the monster – Grendel (Crispin Glover) – menacing his lands and to live out another adventure of which the people will sing songs. The death of Grendel brings the wrath of his mother (Angelina Jolie) upon the kingdom. However, instead of dispatching her as well, Beowulf is seduced by the siren and her pledges. As with Hrothgar, fifty years later, the sins of the father are revisited upon him. King Beowulf, although old and undeniably flawed, undertakes one final task to rid his kingdom of a fire-breathing dragon.
One’s initial reaction to the film’s appearance is it is like a video game; however, the character’s faces, particularly their eyes, are far too expressive in comparison to maintain this opinion.
Using the same technique he introduced in The Polar Express, veteran director Robert Zemeckis once again employs ‘performance capture’ technology. Essentially, the actors are filmed on a nearly empty sound stage by dozens of cameras while wearing digital sensors on their faces and bodies; then the images are converted using computer software, retaining the actors’ emotions and performances but altering their appearances. This method allowed the filmmakers to realize their visions for the film and its larger-than-life characters without compromising quality of performance.
As a result of this system, it was still necessary to expertly cast the appropriate person for each role – human and non-human. In addition to those already mentioned, the ensemble includes John Malkovich as Hrothgar’s trusted advisor Unferth, Robin Wright Penn as the king’s wife Wealthow and Brendan Gleeson as Beowulf’s first mate Wiglaf.
This collection of artists is impressive on paper and on film, as each player breaths life into his/her character without ever actually stepping on screen. No performer stands out from another as each of their CGI representations displays emotive expressions and delivers genuine dialogue. Still, Grendel’s appearance seemed unnecessarily grotesque; especially when compared to the other creatures.
The addition of sinister dealings and previously unestablished familial relations comes from the imaginations of the writers but is simultaneously compatible with the original text and believable as elements the monks would have left out of their transcription. Nonetheless, excluding these additions, the film is faithful to the original source while creating a version of the classic story that is more accessible to a contemporary and younger audience.
Beowulf is a captivating piece of adventure and fantasy that could not have been as significant if it had been presented in live-action. Furthermore, its transition to 3D is seamless since it was originally filmed as such.