Beowulf is the oldest surviving poem in the English language. The epic work was written sometime between the 8th and 11th centuries. In the poem, Beowulf battles three rivals: Grendel who is attacking the Danish mead hall known as Heorot and its citizenry; Grendel's mother; and later in life after returning to Geatland and being crowned a king, a dragon. I think I had to read the book for the first sometime in junior high and later as a college student. Though the goal of reading it was different each time, I remember being suitably unimpressed.
When Robert Zemeckis, whose directing credits include The Polar Express and Back to the Future, decided to bring Beowulf to the big screen, the prospect intrigued me; maybe a big budget film version would give me some love for the story. Zemeckis certainly surrounded himself with an all star cast for this adventure into the world of ancient England. Sir Anthony Hopkins plays King Hrothgar, he is joined by John Malkovich as Unferth, Ray Winstone as Beowulf, Robin Wright Penn as Queen Wealthow, Crispin Glover as Grendel, Brendan Gleeson as Wiglaf, and Angelina Jolie as Grendel's nasty mother.
The basic story presented in the film is this: King Hrothgar who is drunk all the time, builds a merry hall to revel in his 'greatness' with a big party. His advisor Unferth (John Malkovich) and his Queen Wealthow (Robin Wright Penn) are with him when Grendel (Crispin Glover) gets very angry about all the noise and starts slashing people to death in order to stop the merriment. Because of the carnage, King Hrothgar is forced to close the hall. He sends word that great riches will be bestowed on the individual who can bring an end to Grendel's acts of terror.
After a heated argument with Unferth, Beowulf (Ray Winstone) is able to convince King Hrothgar that he is the man to get rid of the demon Grendel. The King promises Beowulf a gold chalice shaped like a dragon if he can successfully slay Grendel. Beowulf and his men successfully lure Grendel to the hall by engaging in loud singing and cheering. Beowulf rids himself of all his clothing (Beowulf's "private parts" are not evident. I guess Zemeckis really wanted that PG-13 rating) and defeats Grendel after a lengthy battle. Beowulf is now a hero in the kingdom, but he has rankled Grendel's demon mother (Angelina Jolie). Grendel's mother convinces him to make a pact with her to produce a replacement for Grendel in exchange for which she will make Beowulf king. Years later, the offspring takes the form of a dragon and attacks Heorot.
I guess with Angelina Jolie around we shouldn't be surprised that the sexuality was ratcheted up for the film version of Beowulf. Purists for the original poem may be disappointed, because in the film no man seems to go through Heorot without making a stop in Jolie's Boudoir. Every king has slept with Jolie. While there are a few notable battles featuring swordplay, Zemeckis seemed more concerned with making the audience think about Jolie's sexuality, by having her character appear half naked throughout most of her scenes.
Beowulf: Director's Cut strays from the book quite liberally. Instead of having Beowulf slay Grendel's mother, he instead produces the heir that eventually kills him. The changes in the story also make Hrothgar the father of Grendel. I would have liked to see what the filmmakers could have done within the confines of the original poem, but the film as a whole still wasn't bad.
I was impressed by motion capture animation technique used by Zemeckis. By having actors wear motion capture suits while moving around and feeding the information from the suits into a motion capture program, the director has created very realistic looking animation. The facial expressions as well as the rest of the movements have a realism I haven't seen before. The look of the film is very sharp.
Beowulf looks good on DVD. It is presented in an anamorphic 2.35:1 aspect ratio and is completely free of any flaws. Beowulf is packaged with English, French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks.
Beowulf: Director's Cut contains only a minute or so of extra footage from what was seen in theaters and a little more gore. It does have a few extras though including four featurettes related to the film: "A Hero's Journey: The Making of Beowulf" (23:55) gives a very good look at how the actors worked with technology to bring the motion-captured film to life, "Beasts of Burden: Designing the Creatures of Beowulf" (6:55) gives a nice look at the artwork and designs for the film's beasts, "The Origins of Beowulf" (5:12) looks at the historical beginnings of the film. The final supplement on the front page of the DVD menu, "Creating the Ultimate Beowulf" (1:59) is more like a promo clip focusing on how Zemeckis envisioned a modern take on Beowulf. "The Art of Beowulf" (5:24) combines video snippets from the actual film and interviews with the director, producer and production designer. It shows artwork and talks about how the creators wanted to make the 'ultimate' look for the film. The collection of six deleted scenes (10:09) are all incomplete and feature early animatics. The theatrical trailer is also included.