“Beowulf” offers visual feast but leaves viewers hungry

Jon Baeckstrom ('08)/ Eastside Entertainment Editor

beowulf.jpgFor better or worse, Beowulf offers a cinematic experience that no other film can currently offer.

Robert Zemeckis’ flashy, action-packed take on the epic poem Beowulf is a delight to the eyes, but fails in other aspects. In the same style as Zemeckis’ 2004 film, The Polar Express, Beowulf was filmed in live action with the actors’ every move turned into computer animation. As a result, Beowulf has the appearance of a typical computer-animated movie but with unparalleled realism in its characters.

The movie takes place in sixth-century Denmark, as King Hrothgar’s (Anthony Hopkins) lands are being terrorized by Grendel, a hideous, seemingly invincible monster with a penchant for devouring villagers. Enter Beowulf.

Ray Winstone (The Departed) stars as the titular character, who leads a band of warriors known as Geates in a quest to slay the beast. Soon he finds out that all is not what it seems and there may be a greater danger present, particularly concerning Grendel’s mysterious mother (Angelina Jolie).

Epic in every sense of the word, Beowulf features some of the most incredible battle sequences ever put on film. The technology allows for some truly breathtaking fight scenes which are practically worth the price of admission by themselves.

Unfortunately, the non-action sequences are not nearly as successful. In addition to some awkward dialogue and unintentionally humorous moments, the film doesn’t flow and is confusing at many points.

Winstone does a fine job giving Beowulf a heroic, growling voice reminiscent of Leonidas from 300, but much of his simple conversational dialogue falls flat. Nevertheless, the character of Beowulf is one of the more interesting aspects of the movie, as he is not the stereotypical infallible, flawless hero.

The supporting acting is a mixed bag as well, with some good and some bad. . Notably, Anthony Hopkins is terrific as the weary Hrothgar, haunted by past mistakes. On the other hand, Angelina Jolie and John Malkovich (as Unferth, Hrothgar’s advisor) turn in disappointing performances.

Much of the movie’s disjointed feel is due to the set-up of the source material. The original poem was split into three parts with one very disconnected from the other two, so the writers took great liberties with their rendition in order to try to unify the film. However, they do so with limited success. Beowulf still feels choppy and disorderly, negating many of the film’s positive qualities.

Unexplained plot twists will leave many viewers confused, especially the film’s clumsy, misguided ending and the sudden change in tone halfway through the movie.

The MPAA might have to review its ratings system after allowing this film to earn a PG-13. Given the sheer amounts of graphic violence and gore, partial nudity, and obscene humor present, Beowulf is probably too intense and adult-themed for many young children.

Regardless of the film’s numerous faults, Beowulf redeems itself for its visuals: sweeping views of the frozen Scandinavian landscape, brutal fight scenes, incredibly life-like animation and horrific monsters.

Beowulf is a tough movie to grade; its positives come largely from the superb application of the new technology, but it’s a let-down in most other ways. However, the sheer power of the movie when seen in a theatre makes it still worth a watch, though it’s certainly not a must-see film.

Rating (out of a possible 4 stars): 2½