A Review of Robert Zemeckis’ “Beowulf”

Chasing the Dragon, 18 November 2007
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

*The following is a review of the digital 3D version showing at select theaters:

Robert Zemeckis has always been a trailblazer with film technology. He was among the first to utilize CGI in “Death Becomes Her” and with his adaptation of the oldest surviving epic poem in the English language, he perfects the life-like digital computer animation he first experimented with in “The Polar Express”. Like his canon of films over the years, “Beowulf” is an eye-popping mixed bag of cinematic tricks.

The animation has come to a point where it is eerily life-like. In “Beowulf” every blade of grass, every tree branch, and every strand of hair has been painstakingly detailed. And while it is hard to tell the difference between the digital Angelina Jolie and the real Angelina Jolie, there’s still something about the human face, the nuances of the muscular features, the emotion running beneath, that this technology will never capture. It still depicts hollow, cold clones of real human beings that could never fully replace 3D flesh and blood.

What makes “Beowulf” so entertaining is the digital 3D technology. It creates some breathtaking vistas where you feel as if the landscapes are moving through you. In some of the more horrific scenes with Grendel, you’ll find yourself jumping out of your skin. Zemeckis is like a magician with this technology. He’s able to bleed something out of nothing by knowing how to get the reactions he wants from his audience with just the right sound effect, camera angle, and quick-cut to complete his trick. It’s often ugly, but quite breathtaking.

Zemeckis loses some ground when he relies too much on juvenile machismo grandstanding to further character development. Sure, I love a good death by chandelier scene or a man getting ripped in half by a monster bit as much as the next guy, but all the bawdy humor wears thin. Even lamer was the scene where Beowulf fights Grendel in the buff, which contained almost as many laugh inducing sight gags as the scene where Bart skateboarded nude through Springfield in this summer’s “The Simpsons Movie.”

The mixed bag of tricks and sometimes slow build-up, however, eventually lead to a totally thrilling finale where Beowulf does battle with the dragon his misdeeds begot. In 3D, it’s nerve-shattering fun. As an action adventure film, it makes the mark.

Ultimately you realize why this story has survived over 1200 years. “Beowulf” makes legendary the idea of a hero’s fallibility and the global consequences of the sins of the father. These are universal themes that have been sung again and again in everything from Shakespeare to this year’s best film, “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead.” While the technology used to make this film may seem dated in a few years, the story will live on, and this just may be the definitive “Beowulf” for high school English teachers to use in their lame attempts to connect with their students. The savvier kids won’t be fooled, but there’s worse ways to pass the time in class.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database:


One comment

  1. i hate this effing poem. 🙂

    Sammy, honestly I was never a big fan of the poem either, which is probably why I didn’t remember how different it actually was from this film. –DHS

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