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38 of 46 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Blemished as a Version of the Epic Poem, but Still Very Fun, May 5, 2008
This review is from: Beowulf (Unrated Director's Cut) (DVD)
Beowulf is a great story, it would not have lasted over thousand years if it wasn't. This 2007 all CGI version deviates considerably from the original story's truest and perhaps even its most enduring elements. The villain Grendel is portrayed as if we have the opportunity to sympathize with him. I remember upon his first attack in this film thinking that the Grendel from the epic poem would never have been so bold as to attack while his enemies were not asleep. Never would he come face to face with King Hrothgar on his throne. He is a cowardly and vile monster. I also remember studying Beowulf and thinking that this is the ultimate pagan hero. Courageous even if to a fault, boisterously politicizing himself to the gods by listing off each of his own unearthly tasks, challenging any evil no matter what it may be, even if it looks exactly like a naked Angelina Jolie. Most of all, he was to be a shining example of pride and honesty. It's funny, until now I never realized how I may have idolized Beowulf during my High School readings but just like those young pagan lads a thousand years ago listening to tales of the great warrior around a giant bonfire, I guess in a way I did and still do. The Beowulf we get here is tricked and tormented and his time as king is essentially based on deception. He is flawed in ways that make him less a hero.

There is something to admire in that fearless definition of heroism held up high in the original tale. Something even more endearing about this ultimate clash between good and evil. Something got lost in the transition from ancient Anglo-Saxon scribes to the capable pens of Neil Gaiman and Roger Avery, who wrote the solid but fundamentally flawed screenplay. Their writing makes for a great popcorn movie but I'm quite sure English scholars are not so impressed. In fact, this will definitely not and should not be shown by teachers or professors to compliment the study of this epic poem.

Still, Beowulf as a film is a back-to-back feast for the eyes. It is a beautiful film and I also believe its style to be a worthy standard to uphold for other action filmmakers in the years to come. I was worried right off that bat that Beowulf would be a two-hour video game cut scene, but it manages to transcend that judgement with time. The characters may be quasi-cartoon but they still hold more spirit than many cartoons have the ability to by far. Ray Winstone is Beowulf and his demeanor is nearly perfect. Anthony Hopkins and John Malkovich, as Hrothgar and Unferth respectively, both shine through their computerized characters more than enough. Both actors bring the overall performances in this film to attention, as both are just that good at their craft. Crispin Glover manages Grendel fantastically and the Grendel here is quite visually satisfying considering I've never had a strong enough imagination to picture Grendel myself based on the descriptions in literature. Angelina Jolie is certainly good enough for her role, as flawed as it may be. Grendel's mother is actually the character changed most of all, but as a separate villain from the epic poem, the character is not only crucial to Gaiman and Avery's story, but actually quite effective. Oh yes, and what epic film with bearded warriors would be complete without everyone's favorite brute from the early middle ages, Brendan Gleeson (as Wiglaf)?!

Overall, it is a tribute in some ways to the great story but on the other hand the way it sacrifices the purity of its characters just to create a convenient story, a gripping visual style, and a well-packaged blockbuster troubles me enough to only give a slight recommendation. Also, wait for this on blu-ray if you want it (if it ever comes in that format), I really can't see any reason not to unless you need it right away. There is an HD DVD version available.
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Showing 1-10 of 10 posts in this discussion
Initial post: May 9, 2008 7:56:23 AM PDT
This is the first time I truly (and respectfully) disagree with your opinion. Not being as familiar with the epic poem as you, I loved this film. From what I understood about the poem it had three acts that in no way related to one another. Clearly to make a film on the subject, the story had to flow with reason. While I can understand your disappointment if you wanted to see the poem on screen, I can't help but think that is not what Zemekis and company were striving for.

This film is not only a technilogical achievement of sight and sound, it is extremely entertaining and fast paced. A high recommendation for fans of that sort of thing.

As always, however, I appreciate your opnion.

Posted on May 9, 2008 11:24:44 AM PDT
K. Driscoll says:
I guess my struggle with this movie wasn't necessarily that it deviated from the original story but that its deviations sacrificed the purity of its characters. The characters are lesser to me because of the story. I would think it would've been possible to write a screenplay that tied the three separate stories together without doing that, but I would concede that it might be difficult.

Still an enjoyable film....I was very close to giving it four stars so it's a high three stars, perhaps three and a half?

Posted on May 10, 2008 4:27:53 PM PDT
This was great review. I did not see the movie but my kids did. I got a similar impression from hearing them talking. It was really great graphics but the story was not true to the original, which I think it should be. My kids also objected to the fact that Beowulf and some other characters were fighting without pants. It made them snicker, not enjoy the movie more. Well I did not read Donald Duck to them when they were younger (he has no pants either) so they are not used to that.

In reply to an earlier post on May 12, 2008 8:45:15 AM PDT
Model review, Kasey. Good writing.
I'm amused to read about your teenage idolization of Beowulf. Gives me insight into your character. My own lit'rary heroes were more ambiguous... first Mercutio from R&J (I played the role in a school production) and then Cyrano de Bergerac. Beowolf would have been a less rsiky choice.

Posted on May 20, 2008 8:32:31 AM PDT
K. Driscoll says:
Thanks for the kind words guys.

GB, funny indeed, I was always adamant that I play the fiery Tybalt in my freshman English class for Romeo and Juliet. Never idolized him of course, but villainy was always fun.

Posted on May 30, 2008 1:01:40 AM PDT
H. Schneider says:
I never had any attachment to the orginal, so the film was pure fun for me.
My youth was more focused on the Nibelungen.
Essentially these great old stories are quite flexible and can survive a lot of violence done to there 'original' versions.

Posted on Sep 8, 2009 11:09:26 AM PDT
Hannah Ayres says:
What a relief to finally read a review by someone who realizes that this version of Beowulf completely negates Beowulf as hero!

Posted on Dec 10, 2009 7:40:21 PM PST
Mark Twain says:
The Beowulf story of the epic is a story of contrasts. Ultimately, it is a meditation on the transitoriness of life and how wealth, fame, and even heroism are fleeting. Key to the poem is contrast between the young Beowulf hero with Beowulf as an old king near death. It is a stunning literary masterpiece of remarkable juxtapositions. The film is merely trash.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 5, 2010 1:45:36 PM PDT
Wuchak says:
On the contrary, Hannah (and others), Beowulf is not only a hero but a clear type of Christ in this animated version of the epos. In the first act Beowulf takes on and mortally wounds the gargantuan half-demon Grendel naked and with no weapons -- if that's not heroic I don't know what is! In the last act he humbly acknowledges & repents of his past failings, declares his love for his wife and then goes out to heroically save his kingdom (i.e. the world) from the dragon (the devil), ultimately sacrificing himself (like Christ).

It goes way deeper than that. See my review from March 14, '09 for more insights. "Trash" it's not!

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 7, 2010 10:54:05 AM PDT
K. Driscoll says:
Heroic yes, I suppose, but not really heroic in the same sense as in the epic. He is a flawed character in this story while he has no "past failings" in the epic. I read and like your review though. Nicely done.
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