Written by El Puerquito Magnifico
I first saw Beowulf during its theatrical run, and I was blown away. Of course, I didn’t just see it on a regular screen; I saw it in glorious IMAX 3D. I felt like a little kid, marveling at the shiniest new toy I had ever received. When the afterglow died away, I was left with the lingering question: would it hold up on the small screen? Was it actually that good, or was it just the 3D and immense scope of the IMAX screen that made the film so memorable? Well, I just watched the director’s cut of the film on my own television, which is considerably smaller than an IMAX screen, and does not feature any cutting edge 3D technology, and while I have to admit that some of the excitement and impact is lessened, I can still say “Yes, it is that good.”
Beowulf looks as though Rankin/Bass got together with Guillermo del Toro to remake Clash of the Titans. It’s not just an epic story, it’s the epic story. Imagine if every action hero ever played by Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Sylvester Stallone was rolled into one man, who was then dressed by the costume designers from Lord of the Rings. And then he killed them all. That’s Beowulf. It’s like if 300 was so manly it was 600. That’s Beowulf.
The story dates back to sometime around the 11th century, and watching it, I could see that it has been a very influential tale. In this tale of a flawed hero, I saw elements of Lord of the Rings, Star Wars and King Arthur. It has, however, been altered a bit by writers Neil Gaiman and Roger Avery, so that it isn’t quite the same Beowulf you might’ve read in high school. Some depth was added to the characters and the story to make it a little more fulfilling. Do you like shapeshifters? Fire breathing dragons? Clashing swords and battle axes? Tales of battle, victory, loss, and redemption? Is the sweet sound of battle like music to your ears? Then you’ll dig Beowulf. This being the director’s cut, there was a little bit more of all of these things. A little more blood, a little more gore, a little more action. A little more of what you love, if you love that sort of thing.
The animation is really amazing too. Everything has sort of a puppet-like look to it, which is why I made the Rankin/Bass comparison earlier. It’s more realistic than Shrek, but they didn’t go for a completely photorealistic style either. There’s a lot of emotion in these characters, which is partly a result of the hard work and technology utilized by the animators, but mostly due to the fantastic cast they worked with. Anthony Hopkins, John Malkovich, Robin Wright Penn, and of course, Crispin Glover as Grendel. He managed to be absolutely terrifying, yet completely vulnerable at the same time. Grendel is a monster, no doubt, but he’s a sympathetic creature that you can’t help but feel sorry for. Ray Winstone’s Beowulf is portrayed in a similar manner, a hero that you can’t help but cheer for, but with a bit of sadness inside over the sins of his past. I highly recommend it to fans of animation and sword ‘n’ sorcery tales.
The DVD features about an hour or so worth of extras, and they’re all quite interesting. “The Origins of Beowulf” delves into the history of the tale and the steps it took to retell it for a modern audience. “A Hero’s Journey: The Making of Beowulf”, “Beasts of Burden: Designing the Creatures of Beowulf” and “Creating the Ultimate Beowulf” show every step along the path, from sketches of the monsters and costumes, to behind-the-scenes images of the stars getting used to working with motion capture technology and green screens. There’s a short bit called “The Art of Beowulf”, which is pretty self-explanatory and also quite amazing to view. Finally, the disc has some deleted scenes, which have not been completed, and were kind of hard to watch: but they’re there, for the folks who can’t get enough of Beowulf. I can’t blame anyone for wanting more.