Eugene Weekly : Movies : 11.21.07


Yes, We Know You’re Beowulf
Sixth century Danes meet today’s technology

BEOWULF: Directed by Robert Zemeckis. Screenplay by Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary. Cinematography, Robert Presley. Music, Alan Silvestri. Starring Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins, John Malkovich, Robin Wright Penn, Crispin Glover and Angelina Jolie. Paramount Pictures, 2007. PG-13. 113 min.

By the power of Grayskull, I. AM. BEOWULF.

There’s something amusingly communal about going to a 3-D movie: The screen instructs you to put on your funny plastic glasses and everyone, giggling, complies, only to begin oohing and aahing as animated rain appears to drip just past their noses. With Beowulf, the 3-D fun peaks at about the point when a swordpoint is waved awfully close to Beowulf’s (Ray Winstone) face. Later, though the film’s level of spectacle continues to climb, the 3-D seems to fall a little behind, like just another tool in the toybox of the filmmakers.

The good news: Beowulf doesn’t resemble a videogame as much as the previews suggested. But director Robert Zemeckis and his sizable team of animators still haven’t managed to make “performance capture” animation truly compelling. The technique allows the film to include scenes that might otherwise be unfilmable, but it also leaves background characters with jerky movements and main characters with oddly unfocused eyes. Unless, that is, the character in question is squinting, and squinting is something our sculpted hero does quite a bit of (he also does a good bit of looking remarkably like Sean Bean). He squints bravely at King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins), whose people he rescues from the deformed Grendel (Crispin Glover, animated to look like an escapee from Resident Evil); lustily at Wealthow (Robin Wright Penn), Hrothgar’s beautiful queen; and more lustily still at Grendel’s mother (Angelina Jolie), whose promises of power and renown are too much for a mere man to resist.

In his popular online journal, co-screenwriter Neil Gaiman wrote that Beowulf “explores the relationship between a person and a story about a person.” It’s a lovely notion, and one worthy of Gaiman’s better work, but in this straightfoward (if occasionally slightly subversive) film, it’s hardly apparent. Beowulf is an action-adventure spectacular of the highest degree, full of raging demons, fire-billowing dragons and nasty deaths; character development is secondary (if not tertiary). It’s best seen through the thankless character of Wealthow, who grows wiser and steelier as her kings repeat their predecessors’ mistakes. Through her eyes, we see how these powerful men are doomed to fight demons of their own creation — and to lose everything when they appear to win. But we have to look awfully hard to see even that.    

Beowulf is now playing at Cinemark and VRC Stadium 15.