Three years ago, Oscar-winning director Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future trilogy, Forrest Gump) unveiled a new technology known as motion-capture that combines live action and computer animation. He employed this technique to bring his Christmas tale The Polar Express to the screen, and now Zemeckis returns to the technology for an even more ambitious project in his latest film, Beowulf.
Based on the classic Old English epic poem, the film tells the story of the heroic Beowulf (Ray Winstone, The Departed), who ventures to Denmark to slay a monstrous creature named Grendel at the behest of King Hrothgar (Anthony
Hopkins). Along the way, this seemingly straightforward mission spirals out of control, becoming much more complicated than Beowulf had anticipated. Not only does he become infatuated with Hrothgar’s young wife, Wealthow (Robin Wright Penn), but he soon finds himself targeted by a menace even greater than the one he came to destroy.
Fans of this ancient tale – which dates back to the 15th and 16th centuries and has no discernible author – may be disappointed in the liberties the film takes with its source material, but the fresh plot points flesh out the film as well as its characters, lending Beowulf a tone not unlike that of a Greek tragedy.
Zemeckis presents a richer, more textured portrait of his heroic leading man and delivers a far more satisfying film than would a direct translation of the original work.
Aside from engrossing viewers in a centuries-old mythical narrative, the film is quite a spectacle and features some of the most exhilarating battle scenes of any film this year. With terrifying creatures and larger-than-life heroes, Beowulf is the kind of old-fashioned adventure yarn that 300 unsuccessfully aspired to be.
Beowulf’s grisly showdown with Grendel and his epic confrontation with a fire-breathing dragon are feasts for the eyes. The animation – if you can even call it that – is so detailed and realistic that it’s often easy to overlook the technology that makes the film possible.
The film’s heart-pounding action and groundbreaking visual effects are even more impressive when viewed in the Digital 3D format offered in selected theaters.
At last, audiences can forget about those ludicrous red and blue glasses of yesteryear. Instead, theaters are outfitted with special digital projectors that allow viewers to revel in the film’s three-dimensional glory without compromising the movie-going experience. The effect is to transform Beowulf into a gripping cinematic experience, one that no fan of great entertainment should miss.
Beowulf is a refreshingly robust tale of courage, pride and temptation. The film makes a fine addition to the stellar catalog of films that Zemeckis has helmed in the past 25 years, and with a
motion-capture rendition of A Christmas Carol – starring Jim Carrey as Scrooge – lined up for 2009, something tells me that Zemeckis is just getting started with his new approach to filmmaking. Bring it on.
Running Time: 113 min.