Beowulf, Dec. 07


In 700 A.D., the Danish kingdom of Hrothgar is plagued by a monster that attacks its subjects and eats them. Don’t you hate when that happens? Especially when the monster is Grendel, a giant semi-transparent creature that drools. Enter Beowulf (Ray Winstone), the airbrushed Viking hero who is not afraid of the man-eating Grendel and vows to kill him. In return, the bawdy King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins) promises Beowulf his kingdom, and will even throw in his lovely young queen (Robin Penn Wright).

Beowulf was inspired by the epic poem that none of us liked reading in high school, especially in Old English. But screenwriters Robert Avary and Neil Gaiman lighten the drudgery by installing some new twists to the old myth. And director Robert Zemeckis installs a five-star, digitally enhanced cast, including Angelina Jolie as the seductive unclothed demon who promises Beowulf untold power and glory if he will give her a son—the old-fashioned way.

Beowulf uses motion-capture technology, a digital process that captures live actors on a bare soundstage and transforms them into something bigger, uglier, or mightier. While the enhancements are impressive, the process drains the life and soul out of its characters. And an aging overweight actor appears as a buff synthetic superhero. Admittedly, Beowulf might be richer in 3D. But Zemeckis should have considered that most theaters don’t offer this feature.

What else is wrong with this picture is that I was prepared to indulge in the epic good-versus-evil, fueled by the raw power of mythology. But instead, this complex production was afflicted with an awkward silence symptomatic of weak dialogue and poor direction. Some of you will argue bitterly that Beowulf was exciting, suspenseful, sexy, and entertaining. And I can respect that. But from where I was sitting, it was a dull and disappointing production that couldn’t be saved even by a giant Viking hero. Or a naked Jolie.  C-