Let’s imagine, shall we, that CGI movies were big business. Not only were they cheaper (in some degrees) than a live action film, but you could do things in them that still, even with today’s technology, would look hokey if it were paired with live action actors. Or perhaps we could imagine that people just wanted to make an adult slaughterfest, but in CGI. Either way you imagine it, it results in Beowulf, a terribly exciting looking film from the outset that turns into a dull, run of the mill adventure film that rarely makes use of its superb CGI elements.
Based off of the famous poem and story of the same name, Beowulf tells the story of a Geat hero who comes to a kingdom in peril and saves it from the hideous Grendel, Grendel’s mother and a monstrous dragon. While Beowulf conquers Grendel, he succumbs to the temptations of his mother and eventually creates more trouble for the kingdom. With a story spanning many years, Beowulf is in no way a short story—indeed, it’s a full on epic that’ll please even the biggest stickler for CGI animation. There are plenty of terrific visuals to be seen in this Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary adaptation.
I’m going to say right now that I’ve never read Beowulf, but apparently that doesn’t matter as director Robert Zemeckis prefaces the first extra on the disc by saying that this isn’t the “boring book you were forced to read in high school” and that it instead focuses on the blood, gore, violence and fornicating that goes on in Beowulf’s world. I wish I had watched this extra before watching the film, as I was expecting something entirely different than what the final result gave us.
From the start, Beowulf sounds like 300. Even the Geats act like Spartans, and the repeated “I. AM. BEOWULF.” mirrors “THIS. IS. SPARTA.” in a few curious ways. Perhaps it’s just because 300 is so engrained in my head that I can’t get it out, but there was just a lot going on in Beowulf that I’d felt like I’d seen before. I can’t exactly say that this film ripped off any others in any way, especially not 300 since Beowulf was in production way before 300 hit theaters, but it just feels like an amalgam of medieval magical movies ; this time, however, it focuses on the manlier aspects of it, which include the aforementioned blood, gore and fornicating.
I had expected this movie, animation wise, to be akin to Polar Express. The two films used similar motion capture techniques, but Beowulf came off looking a lot more cartoony at times. Polar Express had that creepy realism that bordered on “Is this real or CGI?” on more than one occasion. While Beowulf had these moments, they weren’t nearly as numerous as I had expected—instead it started to look a lot like…dare I say it? Yeah I will. The characters looked like they were pulled from Shrek. Of course they had a tad more detail, but it was just really surreal to watch these characters which mirror the humans in the green ogre children’s films, hacking off each other’s limbs, cursing and trying to sleep with each other. It’s the kind of thing that breaks your brain.
Admittedly there was a lot of grand eye candy to be had in the film. No, I’m not talking about a naked Angelina Jolie as Grendel’s mother, but instead the sea sequences, as well as the final dragon battle. When Beowulf recounts his adventures at sea with the sea monsters, we’re treated to beautifully rendered beasties that look absolutely awesome. The detail, the movement and everything about them is truly magnificent. In fact, between the sea monsters and the dragon, they were easily the most grandiose aspects of the film. Everything else just looked like a (I’m gonna say it again) Shrek film with the color and lights turned out.
Perhaps the film is more enjoyable if you had read the boring old adaptation, but I never did. Watching the extras gave me a bit more respect for the film in what Gaiman and Avary twisted around in the script, but I really just found the film to be generic and rather dull. It’s not that it has an incredibly slow pace by any means…it actually went by pretty fast, but I just didn’t find myself too enthralled with any of the on screen events. At times it felt like 300, other times it was Lord of the Rings and other times I was just getting caught up in the visuals.
Beowulf is a very confusing film to watch. Not in terms of story—from what I culled from reading about the film online and from the extras included on this DVD, this version of the story presented in the film is one of the cleanest and easiest translations of the film. However, it just felt like too much of a mix of previous films I had seen, plus the uneasy feeling I got from the Shrek-like humans was hard for me to get by. On top of that the animation in some of the scenes felt a bit stiff and jerky—particularly the naked Beowulf battle against Grendel, Beowulf’s movements seemed even stiffer due to the lack of clothing. The strategic placing of swords and people to cover up his nether regions also got to be a bit comedic by the end of the scene. At first I wondered why they were covering him up at all in an R-rated movie, but then I found out it was actually rated PG-13. Which I found a bit odd, considering the levels of female nudity in the film…suppose that brought in some of the younger audience. It should be known, however, that I am basing this review off of the unrated director’s cut, but since both of the films have the same run time I assume this unrated version just has more gore thrown in.
Overall Beowulf is a worthy enough for a Rental, but if you’re expecting any deep story about a king and his efforts to save his kingdom, look elsewhere. It boils down to mans will to not being able to resist Angelina Jolie’s temptations as she advances towards us naked. From that angle alone, you could surmise that this film is based on real life.
While the widescreen, rated edition of Beowulf has a single extra, this directors cut has a multitude. They’re both single disc releases, so one wonders why they even bothered two different cuts of it—surely it wouldn’t have been that difficult to create a simple two disc edition and be done with it. Ah well. The film itself arrives in a standard single disc case with no insert and an animated main menu with music; sub menus are static.
Moving onto the technical portion we find a very satisfying mix. Not only does the audio boast a powerful 5.1 surround mix, the film looks absolutely gorgeous, even in standard 480p. I’m sure it looks absolutely wonderful in HD (those with HD-DVD players will likely want to rent that format—if you can find a place that rents it, anyway), but for those that haven’t made the transition yet, Beowulf looks absolutely wonderful in standard DVD definition.
Moving onto the aforementioned mix of extras, we first get” A Hero’s Journey: The Making of Beowulf” (23:54), which is also on the rated edition as well; this extra takes us through the production of the film and includes on-set footage of the actors performing their scenes in full skin tight blue jumpsuits and balls on their face (it’s not as funny as it sounds, although it will make you chuckle once or twice). “Beasts of Burden: Designing the Creatures of Beowulf” (6:55) showcases the work that went into creating the wonderful creatures of the film, while “The Origins of Beowulf” (5:12) interviews the scribes of the film and what they took from the book and put into the film themselves. The final two featurettes are a bit on the short side, with “Creating the Ultimate Beowulf” (1:58) talking about designing the title character and why they cast Ray Winstone as the actor and “The Art of Beowulf” (5:24) showing off the backgrounds and other art designs used for the film.
Six deleted scenes (Wealthow Shows Beowulf the Sundial, Beowulf Boasts to the People of Herot, Celebration and Seduction, Wulfgar Greets Beowulf at the Stockade, Beowulf’s Day Unferth Finds The Horn, Cain on the Barrows (Original)) are included as well and run a total of 10:06. All of the scenes are in unfinished form. The final extra is the theatrical trailer for the film, presented in anamorphic widescreen. A host of trailers for other films are, of course, included as well (including one for Iron Man—hell yeah!)
Overall Beowulf sees a solid DVD release, even if the film was a bit flakey. Like the film, this one’s worth a Rental at least; those that enjoy the film, however, will likely want to pick this up. It’s one of the most packed single disc DVDs I’ve seen in a long time, even if it doesn’t sport a commentary.
Beowulf arrives on DVD and HD-DVD on February 26th.