There’s a few things to get out of the way before I get onto the movie which I saw on Friday night in 3D at the IMAX. Like most people I know, the trailers and stills for Beowulf had left me completely underwhelmed. The CGI rendering of the cast was last used to good effect in The Polar Express to make Tom Hanks look like a paedophile. At best the trailer looks like a cut scene from a video game and anyway, haven’t we had enough of this story yet? While The 13th Warrior is a guilty pleasure of mine I was convinced that this tale of daring do had been nailed once and for all in Sturla Gunnarsson’s Beowulf & Grendel, bypassing as it did the myth and fantasy aspects by trying to build a more realistic retelling of the poem. So while I was happy to be invited to the preview I wasn’t overly optimistic as I donned my silly glasses in front of the towering screen.

It took a couple of minutes for the brain to accept the scope of what was going on and there’s also an initial distraction trying to discern Hopkins and Malkovich under the effects, but by the time Grendel made his first appearance I was hooked.

Beowulf is an awesome experience.

The story for the most part sticks to the familiar narrative: King Hrothgar is having a spot of bother with a monster by the name of Grendel leading (heroic with a capital H) Beowulf and a boat full of Geats to come to his aid. Like just about every other interpretation of the tale this one does wander off-poem, but this version unfolds into something special as it finally brings together the young hot-headed warrior with the more world-weary king many years later.

What you get is A LOT of heroics, a lot of violence and an intelligent version of a classic tale that pushes the technology a lot. 3D films used to be just about jabbing things at the audience, and while there is a fair bit of spear poking here, the effects are also used to create depth of vision. The visuals have a fantastic perspective to them, especially when the camera pulls back to take in the landscape. This is going to be sadly lost away from the IMAX.

I’ll be interested to start reading reviews once this hits the regular screens as a lot of the fun in the movie is the feeling that the 3D has dropped you right in the middle of the action. And there’s plenty of it. This Beowulf (voiced in a very rough and ready manner by Ray Winstone) is a scrapper and the set pieces are furiously realised as heads are chewed off, men are pulled in half, heads and limbs fly through the air… It’s not 300, but it is going to satisfy the SPARTA! crowd. The casting is interesting with Hopkins playing Hrothgar as Welsh and Angelina Jolie not exactly hag-like in her role as Grendel’s mother. Crispin Glover as the fiend is inspired casting and while his onscreen persona is a puss filled, boil ridden monstrosity you can still catch glimpses of Glover beneath the CGI which adds to Grendel’s sadness.

Oddly only Grendel and his mother (and later a bard) speak Anglo Saxon in the movie. The decision not to subtitle these exchanges is the right one as Old English is pretty easy to follow when spoken aloud. Maybe I’m in the minority, but I would have loved to have had the whole cast speak in the original language of the poem.

The only cock-up (so to speak) comes as Beowulf strips naked to fight Grendel. The resulting scenes, as figures and props get in the way of his genitals, belongs in an Austin Powers movie and the resulting laughs from the audience should have been easily avoided. Jolie’s nakedness too causes a few problems as she drips in gold, but without a nipple in sight. She does however morph a set of high heels and that again feels like a bad move on the part of Zemeckis.

All this is made up for in the second part of the movie when an older, wiser Beowulf takes on Jolie’s dragon spawn. The resulting fight and flight sequence is stunning and puts the audience firmly back in 300/LOTR mode. Again it’s hard to believe this will be quite as breathtaking without the glasses and the huge screen, but I do hope Beowulf makes enough money to justify Zemeckis taking another romp with 3D as this flick has more than won me over to its promise.

I’m now finally excited to see Avatar too…

5 Responses

  1. This will be my first experience with “new 3d,” I am excited.

  2. I saw this in 3-D but not in IMAX and I had absolutely no problem being thrown into the action or noticing the depth of field. It worked terrifically with a big screen that wasn’t IMAX big. So no worries there.

  3. I really didn’t enjoy myself at this movie. Even with the 3D delights which kind of became second nature and unspectacular to me after the first 15 minutes.

    I found that Beowulf’s complex character and inner conflicts weren’t established far enough for the 2nd and 3rd acts to be believable. There was too much comedy and heroic discourse in the 1st act. but I think that may be just me.

  4. I saw films in 3D not for the first time and like feelings and courage watching films in that way but I have expected more from this particular film not only the 3D delights, I thought this film was more serious and breathtaking.

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