Starring The Departed’s Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins and Robin Wright Penn, Beowulf is the most photo-realistic cartoon or video game I’ve seen to date. A lot of critics seem to be raving how Beowulf is the “future of filmmaking.” In some ways, I have to applaud them for recognizing Beowulf’s technical achievement and in other ways I’m dreading that future of filmmaking.
What is Beowulf about?
Based on one of the oldest English poems, Beowulf tells the story of Beowulf (Winstone), a mercenary of sorts, a man who came by rough seas to Denmark. Here, King Hrothgar is having a major problem with a monster. This creature is incredibly deformed, incredibly sensitive to sound. But the people in Denmark like to make music, party and celebrate victories in Hrothgar’s great golden hall, Heorot. The beast, Grendel (played by Crispin Glover) comes one night, draws blood, rips people apart, pretty much massacres the entire hall.
This is when Beowulf steps in. He had heard Hrothgar and his kingdom was being terrorized by this monster. Beowulf and his viking-like band of soldiers arrive at Denmark to slay Grendel in exchange for the chance to partake of the king’s meat in his glamorous golden hall. He decides that he must fight the beast naked. Obviously, Beowulf does not know that Grendel’s greatest weakness is loud noises. When Grendel attacks, he’s screaming, yelling, grabbing every digital-created human he can get his hands on, and killing them in their worst way. Beowulf realizes what he can do to stop the beast. And boy, does he ever put Grendel in his place.
Unfortunately, Beowulf does not fair so well against the beast’s mother (Angelina Jolie). She’s a temptress. She had already broken King Hrothgar to the point where his own wife, Wealthow (Penn) wanted nothing to do with him. As Hopkin’s Hrothgar states, “She’s not my curse… not anymore.” In effect, once Beowulf went into the cave of this “demon” and met the evil woman, he took Hrothgar’s place, bringing only death to this little community of Denmark. But because Beowulf struck a deal with Grendel’s gold reptilian mommy, she guarantee’s Denmark will at least have a few years of peace and tranquility. Heck, the people of this kingdom are so lucky, no one will even dare strike Beowulf down in battle. Then the sexy demon woman with pearls for a tail attacks Denmark, unleashing holy hell on the little village.
What’s bad and what’s good?
As I stated before, Beowulf is a video game or cartoon. Those CGI characters you see in Shrek have nothing on these marvelous creations. This is where the movie shines and where the movie falls apart. I would’ve enjoyed the film a lot more had they actually stuck live actors in the roles instead of completely recreating them with computers. They could’ve pulled the ol’ CGI stuntman gag just like Lord of the Rings, Titanic and even The Matrix sequels did. Anthony Hopkin’s digitally recreated Hrothgar looks an awful lot like the real, human Anthony Hopkins. So, what is the point exactly? All it did for me was ask, when are those terribly fake, terribly lifeless eyes pan away from the character’s digitally recreated eye sockets? The only exception to this was Glover’s Grendel. This creature effect stands alongside Gollum in Lord of the Rings, Kong in King Kong and Davy Jones in Pirates of the Caribbean as one of the greatest live-action, motion-capture creations ever produced in CGI.
Beowulf makes for great entertainment if you approach it as another great accomplishment from people like Pixar or Dreamworks Animation. If you approach the film as if these are real people you’re seeing on screen, you’ll be sorely disappointed. You’ll be saying to yourself, “Boy, these are the worst actors I’ve ever seen.” This is due to the fact that the voices you hear are not acting these parts, they are just voices on a complete CGI-recreated face.