Beowulf can't overcome second-rate script

Impressive animation and ensemble cast don't save film

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Digital Angelina Jolie in Beowulf

I CAN HOLD MY BREATH FOR A FULL MINUTE. Angelina Jolie stars in Beowulf. Despite the fact her character sports a tail and is digitally rendered, she still looks damn good. Kudos to you, Jolie.

Directed By: Robert Zemeckis
Starring: Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins, Angelina Jolie, Crispin Glover

3 stars

One of the most highly anticipated movies of the year, Beowulf is likely to be remembered as the biggest disappointment since Spider-Man 3.

Loosely based on the Old English epic poem, the film relies heavily on the appeal of its animation to draw in audiences and keep them satisfied. While the digital technology is admittedly impressive, it is the best part of the film, since the dialogue and story are weak.

The movie follows the heroic Beowulf’s (Winstone) arrival in Denmark to defend King Hrothgar’s (Hopkins) drinking hall Heorot from the monster Grendel (Glover). Things only get worse for Beowulf when Grendel’s mother (Jolie) arrives on the scene.

Using the most advanced motion capture and digital enhancement technology, Beowulf is a remarkable blend of acting and animation. Anthony Hopkins looks like Anthony Hopkins, Angelina Jolie looks like Angelina Jolie (except even hotter and always naked) and Ray Winstone looks like a jacked Russell Crowe with a blonde ponytail.

Scene from Beowulf

Throughout most of the film, the characters move with über-realistic fluidity, with some scenes that are nearly impossible to differentiate from real life. However, the realism is occasionally lost in crowd scenes, with characters looking more like extras from Shrek than real people.

The animated nature of the movie also allows for some impressive cinematography that would be nearly impossible to pull off on conventional film. The battle scenes in particular are nothing short of artistic, with the camera capturing shots from inconceivable angles. These action sequences are brutal, bloody and oh-so-enjoyable to watch.

Visuals aside, however, Beowulf is not a great movie. The actors do as much as they can with the dialogue they are given, but the script is generally flat and disappointing.

Many of Beowulf’s lines are awkward bragging that leave no one impressed, while his soldiers apparently have nothing better to talk about than all of the virgins they have bedded.

Essentially, all of the talking parts are just transitions trying to build up to the next big fight.

Among the more memorable scenes is Beowulf’s fight with Grendel.

Beowulf insists on a fair fight; since the monster has no armour or weapons, neither will he, and strips down to nothing. Rather than just show off the twig and berries, director Robert Zemeckis chooses to keep the movie PG-13 and finds as many different ways as possible of covering Beowulf’s junk.

While similar devices were funny in Austin Powers and The Simpsons Movie, it seriously distracts from a pivotal scene.

Overall, Beowulf is a beautiful, but otherwise unsatisfying film. While its visuals are revolutionary, the film’s depth proves unsatisfying.

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