Possibly the ultimate example of Hollywood’s obsession with computer graphic imagery, Beowulf is a strange concoction – a well written though ultimately unengaging retelling of the epic poem.

BeowulfI should make it clear that the very existence of an adult-oriented fantasy film is most welcome. Though kids may enjoy it, Beowulf definitely isn’t written for them in mind. Neil Gaiman and Roger Avery’s script is very wordy and reasonably faithful to the classic poem. The film is very violent (surely the most gory of CGI films) and features its fair share of sexual references.

The animation is equal parts successful and flawed. It looks stunning in 3D (ensure you make the effort to find a cinema screening this version) and really is spectacular to behold. The shots are well conceived and for the most part they don’t skimp on any of the elements (everyone in the crowd scenes does their own thing). The movement is reasonably realistic also, however it’s the subtle reactions that are lost. The characters’ faces resemble mannequins most of the time, as if the crew didn’t put enough of those sticky dots on the actors’ faces during motion capture. Thus, it’s nigh impossible to feel any true emotion. The only performance to have any sort of effect is Crispin Glover’s Grendel, even if it’s hard to understand what he’s saying most of the time.

The rest of the characters either look too much like the voice actors, or not enough. Why you’d spend zillions of dollars capturing Anthony Hopkins (Hrothgar) and Angelina Jolie (Grendel’s mother) only to duplicate them almost exactly in CGI is a mystery. It only serves to highlight the fact that they slimmed down and buffed up Ray Winstone (Beowulf). Brendan Gleeson delivers an almost-touching portrayal of his comrade Wiglaf, though once again the technology hampers the performance.

Beowulf is certainly enjoyable, and Zemeckis has been successful in creating a fantastic sense of place and atmosphere. The technology also enables a score of clever camera moves that could never be undertaken in actuality. His faith in the motion capture technology is a little misguided, however, and it’s going to be a long time before CGI can truly match the performances of actual humans.

Rating: 3 stars
Review by Stuart Wilson, 6th December 2007
Hoopla Factor: 3 stars

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