I missed Beowulf at the cinema. There you go, I’ve admitted it. Still I’m perfectly placed to review this incarnation, because not everything here made the trip to the big-screen either.
Ostensibly, what we have here is a film which has dared to mess with the definitive British mythical poem, and has come away with immersion-puncturing dialogue, too-brutal-for-Shrek visuals, and a version of Angelina Jolie who inspires me to both cower in fear, and search (with head behind sofa) for my own trinket to offer her – after all, it’s still Angelina behind the tentacles. Right?
In fact the casting/voice acting of Ms Jolie, along with John Malkovic and Anthony Hopkins is inspired, though at odds with that of Ray Winstone in the titular role. Sorry Ray, you are of course the daddy and I’d certainly never mess with you (and a sexy beast /Grendel’s Mother joke goes here), but a Danish Prince and hero who sleeps naked and penetrates monsters doesn’t quite suit you. Director Robert Zemeckis knew this in part believing nobody on the planet could play Beowulf physically, instead depending on Winstone’s ‘Henry VIII’ vocals. Quite.
As such, much of the film is spent attempting to mentally hammer together the voice and body of the monster s/layer, and it’s never wholly successful. This is painful process is helped no end by Beowulf‘s constant insistence that everything from King Hrothgar’s queen, to a sparkling gold dragon trinket – and no doubt some fluffy newly born lambs prancing across the fields – be ‘boootiful’.
Still the plot has some semblance of stitching, despite its apparent disregard for the actual poem – Zemeckis admits at least twice in the extras that the text he was made to study in his younger years never appealed to him, so his decision to dissect the classic is irritating, I’ll admit. On the plus side though, there’s plenty of CGI gore to wade in, some nice enlivening of a mythical middle-aged plot, and a few death-defying feats.
Of course, being a DVD with added extras, the box is packed with goodies besides the film, and it is here that the work behind the the finished product adds an extra level of credibility to proceedings. Believe me, it is nothing short of fascinating to watch Anthony ‘Tony’ Hopkins, Winstone, Crispin Glover et al perform in their special suits to infra-red cameras, while the practicalities of creating Glover’s ‘Grendel attacks’ in a 50% set with rag dolls for Thanes, reveals Glover’s immense skill at his art.
Additionally, there’s an ‘origins of Beowulf‘, which garottes any serious fascination with the film’s inspiration; ‘mapping the journey’, which features key plot points captured at the bare actors-in-spandex level; impressive concept art; ‘designing the creatures of Beowulf’; additional scenes, which are basic computer runs of what the final cut may have looked like, and last but not least, an explanation as to why Winstone was the best vocal if not aesthetic choice for the role in ‘Creating the Ultimate Beowulf’. Ray, you are of course the daddy. Please don’t hurt me.