Beowulf Review
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Years ago, back when I was a college English major, I had to read the Old English epic poem, Beowulf, in Professor Ericson’s English lit class. I’m pretty sure I did the assignment, but I’ll admit that I can’t remember much about it. And that’s what makes Robert Zemeckis’s Beowulf fascinating to me. Why, I wonder, would someone make a movie based on a story that most English majors never even cared much about? Then again, if you throw in a naked animated Angelina Jolie, I suppose people will go to see pretty much anything.

Set in Denmark in the sixth century, Beowulf tells the story of a proud and powerful warrior named Beowulf (Ray Winstone) who sets out to rescue an aging king in distress.

While feasting in the town’s great mead hall, King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins) and his people are attacked by a giant monster called Grendel (Crispin Glover). Unable to stop the beast, Hrothgar sends for help—and Beowulf and his men answer the call.

But even after Beowulf kills the beast Grendel, the battle isn’t over—because Grendel’s mother (Angelina Jolie) sets out to avenge her son’s death.

As with Zemeckis’s last film, The Polar Express, Beowulf’s allure isn’t the story as much as the graphics. At times, the CGI animation is truly stunning. It still occasionally looks a bit plastic, and the characters still suffer from a slight case of dead-eye (though they’re not nearly as bad as those creepy kids in The Polar Express). For the most part, though, it’s so lifelike that you’ll often forget that it’s animated (which explains why Angelina Jolie reportedly felt totally self-conscious while watching her naked animated self on screen). And if you watch the DVD’s making-of feature, you’ll be even more blown away by the animation—and all that goes into it.

When you take away the cool animation, though, you’re not left with a whole lot. Though Beowulf is more interesting than the dull and repetitive 300, the story isn’t always easy to follow—and it definitely doesn’t help that some of the dialogue is spoken in unsubtitled Old English. At times, it’s even silly—especially when Beowulf announces that he’ll fight Grendel unarmed…and unclothed. Instead of rewriting the script and putting some clothes on the guy, Zemeckis chose to spend an entire scene strategically placing swords and pottery and things in front of Beowulf’s bits—and it comes off like a corny comedy sketch.

If you’re looking for a classy Old English tale, this definitely isn’t it. Beowulf is packed with rowdy drunkenness, animated blood, and a whole lot of T&A. English lit class never looked quite like this.

At the same time, though, I have a feeling that Professor Ericson might find Zemeckis’s version highly entertaining (or at least highly amusing). And if you were an English major, like me, who only slightly remembers reading Beowulf in college, you probably will, too. For the rest of you, though, it might be a bit confusing and sometimes even silly, but, if nothing else, it still makes for an interesting CGI spectacle—especially you’re into animated T&A.

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