Not animated enough, really

2007-11-26 00:00

Robert Zemeckis, who made The Polar Express a few years ago, has returned to the motion capture animation technique for Beowulf, in which real actors portray human characters and are then redrawn, while everything else is done by hand. It enables humans and monsters to blend seamlessly, so one can see what made it seem perfect for a story that has humans interacting with “demons”. However, I found myself wishing Peter Jackson was behind the camera. He managed to get real humans to interact with and portray monsters — with emotions — in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Here, the animation technique leaves us with oddly wooden humans with squinty eyes.

That aside, what of the film as a story? It opens with King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins) throwing a party to open his new mead hall. The setting is Denmark in the 500s. Hrothgar is a fat old soak with a slipping-off toga and a hot young wife (Robin Wright Penn).

Suddenly, into the drunken mêlée arrives a ghastly slime-dripping creature — Grendel — who slays a few of the revellers and terrifies the rest.

Hrothgar needs a demon-slayer. Enter Beowulf (Ray Winstone), a boastful foreigner. Grendel duly turns up, and Beowulf, stripped naked, does battle.

Beowulf allows the people to think he has rid them of the demon, but he knows there’s more to it, so he goes to the beast’s lair, where he meets Grendel’s mother. In the original story, she is supposed to be a hag, but it suits the logic of the tale to have her in the form of Angelina Jolie. She offers a deal — give her another son, and she will ensure that Beowulf rules forever. When he returns to the kingdom, Hrothgar realises what has happened (having entered the same bargain himself) and makes Beowulf his heir.

Fast forward a decade or so, and Christianity has come to Denmark, pushing the old gods and legends aside. However, demons still lurk, and Beowulf’s own nemesis re-emerges.

He at least has the balls to fight for himself, instead of abdicating the Oedipal duty.

The battle scenes are pretty exciting, although with the characters so wooden and the dialogue rather banal, it’s difficult to get fully engaged. I found the story more gripping than I expected to, just not as gripping as it could have been.

***

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