Based off of an extended poem that nearly everyone has been forced to read at some point in their lives, Robert Zemeckis brings Beowulf to the screen in his unique animated style. The film is engaging, unique, and flawed. The movie also loses its 3-D effects on the small screen, leaving the film somewhat dry.
Beowulf is your typical fantasy bad-ass, killing sea monsters by slashing out their eyes, beating down deformed monsters, and single handedly taking on a dragon as it attacks. Ray Winstone plays Beowulf, though what’s on screen is certainly not him. Instead, a digital double stands in for the entire cast, using the same style of animation as Polar Express back in 2004.
Those few years in-between have undoubtedly advanced the technology. While the film is definitely hindered by robotic and unnatural movements, it is indistinguishable from the real life when it comes together. The amount of detail and care that has been put onto the characters via textures is remarkable.
The story enough is a fairly simple tale, though on screen, it becomes an epic. Beowulf becomes king after saving a kingdom from the terror of Grendel, and then takes on Grendel’s mother, played by a nude animated version of Angelina Jolie. Fights are filled with insane amounts of blood and gore. The body count soars in the first battle, and how this ever ended up with a PG-13 rating is a mystery only the MPAA can answer for.
The fight between Grendel and Beowulf is unintentionally hilarious. For whatever reason, Beowulf fights in the nude. The methods used to cover up the nudity are guaranteed laughs. Not only are some of them obvious phallic symbols, it feels like a scene take right out of The Simpsons. True to the original story or not, it’s campy and misguided.
Downtime between battles is relatively mundane, saved by impressive visuals. This one definitely feels overlong, and the romance goes nowhere fast. The character of Beowulf simply isn’t that interesting on his own when he’s not battling it out with giant monsters. Thankfully, the ending does make the character a flawed, sympathetic human, capping off the story nicely. The contrast from Beowulf’s earlier battles to his finale struggle is a nice change of pace.
There’s fun to be had in Beowulf. The sight of him tagging along on the back of a dragon as it fights off its own enemies is impressive. As a whole, this movie is beautiful to just look at even if the story isn’t grabbing you. Only die-hard fantasy fans need apply from a strictly storytelling standpoint.
As a digital film, Beowulf is a perfect choice for HD. When in brightly lit situations, this is a perfect video presentation. The striking amount of detail is unmatched by almost any other disc on the market. Skin detail is nothing short of remarkable, however, dimly lit rooms shroud most of the movie.
The black levels, which are solid and steady, are too deep. They blot out backdrops and take down the color levels with it. Occasionally, this is intentional to hide certain “aspects” of the characters anatomy or to push focus on something critical. However, many times this is not the case, and the transfer loses its razor sharp appeal.
At the very least, the disc provides a flawless audio presentation. This Dolby Digital Plus effort will shake everything off the walls if you’re not careful. When the dragon begins breathing fire, the subwoofer dominates the room with pounding bass that can only be deemed appropriate. Other action scenes deliver intense surround use as people are tossed around the room and into various objects. Crashing waves deliver on all counts.
Disc 1 of this two-disc affair offers a picture-in-picture feature titled Beowulf in the Volume. This is a sort of video commentary that runs for almost the entire movie, and is similar to the feature on 300 where you could watch the actors on stage with a green screen behind them. Other features include concept art and animatics. A single web enabled feature is currently available for download and offers various information on the actors and their characters.
Things pick up on disc 2 with an assortment of features. A Heroes Journey is well worth your time at 24 minutes. This engaging behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film doesn’t feel redundant even if you sit through the pseudo commentary. It should be longer. This also offers a pop-up trivia feature to top it off.
The Journey Continues is a collection of 10 featurettes running for a little over 21 minutes. These cover a wide array of topics. Beasts of Burden looks at creature design for seven minutes. Origins of Beowulf is the saga of the original story.
Creating the Ultimate Beowulf is a short two-minute piece on Ray Winstone. The Art of Beowulf is a collection of impressive pre-vis art with interview clips from the crew. A Conversation with Robert Zemekis was filmed at USC after the first ever showing of the film in 3-D. Finally, 11 deleted scenes offer 13 minutes of rough CGI. As a bonus, all but the latter are presented in HD.
This version of Beowulf has been around since 1997 when writers Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary initially penned it. Zemekis had tried multiple times to get it made, but no studio would finance a live action version (likely due to the cost). When Polar Express worked with this new capture technology, Zemekis had his film, though it still ran up a $150 million budget.