Beowulf

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Beowulf
Review (-/10)
(By Paul Fischer)

Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins), King of the Danes, is in trouble. His new hall, Heorot, which he built so that his men could enjoy themselves, has turned into a charnel house. The singing and constant partying and lechery have attracted the intense anger of the monster, Grendel (Crispin Glover).

Everyone is terrified of the monster, all that is, until seafaring Viking warrior Beowulf (Ray Winstone),turns up at Hrothgar's court in the hope of acquiring wealth and power in exchange for destroying the monster. Deliberately provoking Grendel, Beowulf sets a trap, and after a brutal, naked fight, succeeds in ripping off the monster's arm. Grendel flees where he dies and Beowulf's legendary status is assured. That is until Grendel's mother, a devious, reptilian seductress [Angelina Jolie], opts for revenge, a revenge that will ultimately test Beowulf's masculinity and kingship, since by now he has succeeded the tragic Hrothgar as King.

It would be fair to say that Robert Zemeckis' Beowulf succeeds on more levels than one would assume. While his CGI film Polar Express remains an interesting failure devoid of any real depth or human emotion, his Beowulf is the true antithesis of its predecessor. There are are many ways one can approach this epic tale, either on a technological level or as cinematic drama, but the true measure of its success is that it succeeds as both, without one thinking of the former.

There is no doubt that technically, Beowulf is as hypnotic a work as one has witnessed in quite some time, taking the likes of 300 and amping its visual clarity up 100%. The visual clarity of Beowulf is extraordinary, especially in IMAX 3D, which enhances the sensory experience for the audience in ways we have never seen before. The ONLY way to truly see this Beowulf is in IMAX 3D, there is no alternative, because the film's imagery is far more intensely realized through this process, as well as a heightened sense of sound.

Yet if the film fails to work as drama, then none of the technological advances ever invented would be able to save it, and in the case of Beowulf, with a taut script by Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary, who have focussed on both depth of character, as well as a narrative sense of cohesion, this Beowulf is riveting drama. The film closely resembles the once lost epic poem, but enhances it with a dramatic power and finesse, that makes this version the most compelling of all Beowulf films, that are often marred by their crude simplicity.

Zemeckis has taken the screenplay and given it even greater visual clarity while ensuring audiences that this is a thematically rich work exploring so many facets of human emotion, from power and greed, to sexual manipulation and mortality. Here is a stunning work that is both utterly spectacular and eye-popping, and emotionally satisfying. There are obvious set pieces which leave one completely awe-struck, in particular the film's climatic battle scene between Beowulf and the dragon, but those aside, the film and Zemeckis never lose sight that through all the technical razzle dazzle, nothing compares with the power of the narrative drama, and this movie succeeds on all levels.

Performances are all noteworthy, from Ray Winstone, who is convincing as an initially youthful warrior to an aged king confronting his own mortality. Jolie is as alluring and hypnotic as one would expect, and Hopkins shines as the lecherous king. The visual interpretations of the actors is so much more sophisticated than in the flatter Polar Express, making us believe in the film's characters, rather than be struck by the film's visuals.

Beowulf remains, at its core, an intricate, spellbinding feast of drama, character and epic battles that elevate the CGI drama to a level far beyond what we saw with 300. This is a far more impressive work, a feast of imagery coupled with magnificent drama, a rare cinematic marriage that is destined for box office gold and deservedly so. This is an unquestionable must see, but try to see it in IMAX 3D, the only way to saviour the cinematic majesty of a true epic tale.

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