Beowulf

Director: Robert Zemeckis
Starring: Ray Winstone, Robin Wright Penn, Anthony Hopkins

Reviewer: Susanna Krawczyk

I’ve seen reviews ranging in tone from “This was not exactly like the poem and so is rubbish!” to “LULZ, it’s about killing things, and it’s based on a POEM, who knew?!”, so it’s fair to say that this movie has an incredibly polarised target audience. On one side the linguists; on the other the diehard fans of 300. I think I lie somewhere in the middle.

At first glance Beowulf appears to be in the 300 vein, with animated backdrops, muscle-bound shouty types and naked torsos on display, but this gives way to a more thoughtful and interesting feel as the movie progresses. Writers Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary have tied the two halves of the original poem together and in so doing have woven a story about the nature of heroism and taking responsibility for human weakness. Overall it works fairly well, creating a more cohesive narrative and a more complex moral for modern audiences to enjoy.

Unfortunately, impeding this is Ray Winstone’s turn as Beowulf himself – it’s hilariously overblown and unsubtle. If he’s not shouting “I AM BEOWULF!” or screaming about killing MONSTAHS he’s faltering over his lines like a child reading aloud to the class. It’s a shame, since the character as written is more interesting than the typical muscle-man hero and a better actor would have really perked up the role. In fact, his acting alongside Angelina Jolie as Grendel’s mother is excruciating, since even in animated form she delivers a performance of such power and intrigue that she easily comes across as the most interesting character of the lot. Anthony Hopkins, Crispin Glover, Brendan Gleeson and Robin Wright-Penn also manage to show Winstone up, even if John Malkovich seems to be trying to beat him in a stilted-delivery contest.

I saw both versions – 3D and not-3D. The ordinary version I saw first, and lack of 3D didn’t detract much from my enjoyment of the film. As it stands, the 3D is mostly quite gimmicky, with only the odd deliberately-placed object appearing to protrude from the screen. It does add a kinetic energy that is otherwise not present, although it occasionally makes the animated characters look more like cardboard cut-outs stood a few feet away from a backdrop. Thankfully the animation technique used has improved since Polar Express. No dead-eyed weans staring creepily back at you this time. Having said that, the technique has a way to go before movement and expression become truly natural; the occasional realistic close-up notwithstanding.