- Directed and Co-Produced by Robert Zemeckis
- November 5, 2007 (Westwood) / November 16, 2007 (United States)
- Beowulf-Ray Winstone
- King Hrothgar-Anthony Hopkins
- Grendel-Crispin Glover
- Grendel’s mother-Angelina Jolie
- Unferth-John Malkovich
- Wiglaf (Beowulf’s lieutenant)-Brendan Gleeson
- Queen Wealtheow-Robin Wright
- Ursula (Beowulf’s concubine when he is an old king)-Alison Lohman
- Hondshew-Costas Mandylor
- Wulfgar-Sebastian Roche
- Garmund-Greg Ellis
- Eofor-Rik Young
- Estrith-Charlotte Salt
- Yrsa-Leslie Harter Zemeckis
- Finn of Frisia-Fredrik Hiller
The creature Grendel is terrorizing Denmark and the warrior Beowulf must stop him but learns there is more going on than others know.
Beowulf is an unusual animated feature. I cannot think of too many animated releases that base themselves off an old epic poem. More importantly it does not appear to try to water anything down or make the material more family friendly since this is animation as one might think the knee jerk reaction to be. This is a very adult film.
Anybody who reads me regularly knows I have a perpetual issue with CGI films. The hand drawn Disney movies for example look as good today as they did when they were first released. Hand-drawn animation is an art because it is coming directly from a human being and art has staying power. Look at any old painting and realize people still enjoy it decades or centuries after the artist first created it. CGI is crafted on a computer and uses things beyond the capability of the hands of the artist. Since it is a product of technology and not people as technology advances its limitations at the time of creation become apparent.
The character designs in Beowulf are detailed and amazing. They are points despite its age these animated individuals look like real people. I know these were actors using motion capture, but the level of realism is impressive. The environment is as detailed and as immersive as any live action film. But as technology advances what was once amazing CGI eventually shows its age and this is beginning to. While the characters look good, they move a little stiffly. They lack nuanced expression. In a few years I think this could be rather unwatchable and look like videogame animation which is unfortunate as this is a good film.
Beowulf is a great and sophisticated story brought to life by Robert Zemeckis with a script by Roger Avary and the legendary Neil Gaiman. They do some interesting things here. For example, I seriously thought something was wrong with my copy when Grendel was speaking. I could not understand a word the character said. Turns out all his dialogue was in Old English. It is an interesting story choice.
One thing you do not see very much in animation from any hemisphere is male nudity. I have seen plenty of naked women but no men. The character of Beowulf is plenty naked at the beginning of the movie (though his ding-a-ling is strategically blocked each time). I do not know if this was meant to be a visual joke or just accidental but at one point they use a powerful looking sword to block his mighty member.
Beowulf is not some saintly hero. He is extremely flawed. His tales of daring do that he tells upon arriving are strongly implied to be completely made up. He takes the job for the fame and glory it will give him and not because it is the right thing to do. He also lusts after the King Hrothgar’s wife Queen Wealtheow very obviously.
One theme running through this film is that we as a species and as individuals repeat the mistakes of the past. In the story King Hrothgar slept with Grendel’s mother to gain his power (and thus fathered Grendel). Beowulf does the same when he goes to kill Grendel’s mother and at the end of the film it appears as if Beowulf’s lieutenant Wiglaf will make that very same mistake. The latter two knew all too well what would come of falling to that temptation yet Beowulf did it with very little hesitation and Wiglaf appears to be considering doing the same.
It is a bit of a trap on the part of Grendel’s mother. Apparently sleeping with her cost these men the ability to have sons so there is no one left to hand the kingdom over to and the cycle is all but guaranteed to repeat. A king having an heir is important and now because they fall to her seductions the future of what they have after they are gone is in doubt.
Bringing it down to the individual, we all make poor decisions in our lives. All too often the poor quality of those decisions is obvious before we even go into them yet we make them anyway. Worse still we can keep making that poor decision over and over again by tricking ourselves into believing it will be different this time even though history has taught us better. That is something deep and quite not often touched on in films. It is a piece of sophisticated storytelling.
Beowulf does not talk down to its audience nor does it spoon-feed you what it is trying to relate. Much like giving a pill to a dog, it wraps its themes in a treat and tricks you into consuming it. That is good storytelling.
The men of the story fall victim to their own weaknesses. Their lust for power and lust for sex and general greed are the source of all the problems. You could take that as a lesson from what occurs here.
The more I talk about this movie the more I realize it is more than just a classic story turned into a great piece of animated action. There is some stuff to think about at the end of this movie. This film is much deeper than you might give it credit for at first glance.
Zemeckis has taken to pushing the boundaries of Western animation. He has done more interesting and unique things with it than many other houses. Mars Needs Moms may not have been amazing but Monster House, A Christmas Carol, and even The Polar Express were fantastic features that used their medium in innovative ways.
Beowulf is a great animated feature and is most definitely not for kids. There are some deep things going on in this movie. It is not just a fantasy film but a film with interesting themes about the human weaknesses that cause us to repeat mistakes as individuals and as a people. Watch it and be left with something to think about afterwards!