Sunday, March 21, 2010

Archive: 'Beowulf'

Movie Review
Beowulf (2007)

I just love this melding of school literature and a major motion picture. Upon first hearing about "Beowulf," I figured it would be a pile of crap, but I would see it anyway just to poke fun at the thrilling memories of trudging through the Old English epic poem in English class a year back. Ah, yes. Well, I couldn't have been any more wrong, and it just so happens that this is actually one of the most exciting times you'll have in a theater right now. It's hilarious how this centuries-old poem has been kicked into high-gear and transformed into one awesomely kickass action movie. I think even Mrs. Ladd would be proud. Good ol' Beo!

Director Robet Zemeckis uses the same motion-capture here that he used in "The Polar Express," except back then it looked pretty surreal. Although still slightly eerie, things have definitely changed because this time around, the style of animation looks more realistic and absolutely stunning. And the movie looks like it was specifically made for 3-D with plenty of things flying out at the screen towards you. I saw it in IMAX 3-D, and it was loud, exciting, eye-popping, and insanely entertaining. If you plan on seeing it, do yourself the favor of seeing it in 3-D; most theaters are offering it that way, and it's really the best way to experience it.

Plot summary is like reviewing for a test on Beowulf because it's actually quite faithful to the original poem with familiar names and places. It takes us to a land long ago where Danish king Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins) is holding a celebration in the mead hall, a place where there are lots of women to fondle and mead to guzzle. Out in the distance, however, there is the monster named Grendel (Crispin Glover), who is known for hating joyous celebrations and therefore has a nasty habit of destroying mead halls. Grendel is conceived rather well, I thought, considering how the original poem would've intended for him to look. He's partially man, which is correct, but horrendously slimy and gross looking, also correct. King Hrothgar offers a reward to any man that can slay Grendel, even offering his younger queen wife (Robin Wright Penn).

And so arrives Beowulf (Ray Winstone) with his faithful friend Wiglaf (Brendan Gleeson) and other thanes to slaughter the beast, all boasting in manly robust talk. A man named Unferth (John Malkovich) questions Beowulf's abilities and mentions a swimming race Beowulf had with another man named Breka. This is humorous to me only because I distinctly remember Breka being briefly mentioned in the poem, and now in the movie, it's blown-up into an extended flashback showing that the reason Beowulf lost the race was because he was too busy splitting open and gouging the eyes out of sea monsters, all shown in gruesome detail with blood raining down on your 3-D glasses. Later on, Unferth even turns around and offers Beowulf a sword called Hrunting, also mentioned in the poem. So, it's faithfulness is definitely there; however, it's when Grendel's mother comes into the picture that some liberties are taken with the plot.

Yes, Angelina Jolie plays Grendel's mother, and she would not at all work in the context of the poem as she's supposed to be an ugly hag. In the way the movie wants to use Grendel's mother, though, Jolie couldn't be a more perfect match. When she first emerges from the pool in that single iconic scene, Grendel's mother is sexy, seductive, and tempting, covered in patches of gold to cover up her personals and even donning spike-heeled feet. And no, that's not actually Angelina Jolie's naked body you're looking at. Grendel's mom tempts Beowulf, adding needed intrigue to the story, and it really works out quite nicely. An innovative new layer is added to Beowulf's character, as well, which allows him to be not only a hero, but also a normally flawed man.

There are some unintentional laughs and occasional outbursts of snickering along the way, especially during a scene where Beowulf strips down completely naked to take on Grendel. Throughout the brutal manslaughter, Beowulf leaps around the mead hall with conveniently placed objects to cover himself. For the most part, though, people just sat and watched in silent awe. This was particularly noticeable during a final fight sequence against a giant fire-breathing dragon. Dare I say, FBD? This final fight's purpose, especially, strays far from the original epic, but this too ends up working out quite well with the rest of the movie's story.

Ray Winstone is fitting to Beowulf with his random outcries of triumphant phrases, reminiscent of "300," as this movie will probably appeal to the same audience. I actually liked this better than that for whatever reason; perhaps it's my English class connection. The movie is also bordering between its PG-13 rating and an R-rating, and it likely would've obtained the latter had it not been animated.

If you're looking for something fun to see in theaters right now, this is by far your best bet; just slap on those 3-D glasses and enjoy the rush. However weird I feel saying it, "Beowulf" is a really great movie.

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