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Beowulf: See It in 3-D or Not at All

"I. Am. BEOWULF!" roars a computer-generated (and significantly enhanced) Ray Winstone over and over and over again. The animated epic story of Beowulf is impressive from a visual standpoint — it really is like living inside a video game — though story-wise it's empty and forgettable. But if nothing else, you will absolutely remember who. Is. Beowulf.

I managed to see Beowulf in an IMAX theater, donning some giant, goofy 3-D glasses. In this way, the movie is spectacular. You'll be splattered with blood, threatened with sharp spears, and nearly dropped into the sharp-toothed mouths of terrifying beasts. It is, quite simply, amazing. I completely understand Robert Zemeckis' desire to bring this story to life via animation. Using (and improving upon) the motion-capture technology he tried with The Polar Express, the humans look as real as possible (more or less) while still existing in a mystical land alongside monsters, mermaids and water serpents.

Overall, it's a cool idea. In execution, it's enjoyable enough, though I'm not sure I would have liked it half as much if I were not watching it on an IMAX screen in 3-D. However, having said that I agree with the complaint of a fellow reviewer that if you turn your face even the slightest bit, the 3-D image is skewed and unpleasant to look at. Sitting in the same position with my head frozen in place for two hours and watching a 3-D movie left me with neck pains as well as a headache. For more about the pros and cons of this movie,

As cool as Beowulf looks, it succeeds visually at the expense of interesting storytelling. Winstone voices the great warrior himself, though his "onscreen" self is a far cry from the doughy man we've watched in things like Sexy Beast. In a handsome war hero's body, Beowulf is our protagonist who arrives in Hrothgar's kingdom with his entourage. As Beowulf consistently reminds everyone, he's here to "kill your moanstah," the horrifyingly disgusting creature named Grendel (Crispin Glover) who terrorizes Hrothgar's people. In a laughable scene, Beowulf insists on fighting the monster in the nude, his manhood expertly hidden by various "coincidental" objects in a scene that mirrors the hide-the-pickle scene from Austin Powers.

There are moments like these that provide some much-needed levity, though there are many other moments that unintentionally generate laughter, like the "shot" of Grendel's Mother's (Angelina Jolie) stiletto heel-shaped feet (not shoes, feet). Indeed, this movie seriously pushes that PG-13 rating to the max. Just because it's animation doesn't make Grendel's Mother's buxom body any less near-nude.

Anyway, Beowulf fights Grendel and succeeds, only to then have to answer to Grendel's Mother. Once he meets her, he is seduced by her womanly charms (as she literally melts his sword in some not-so-subtle imagery) along with the promise of kingly glory. Herein lies the moral, I guess, of the movie (though not necessarily the literary work on which it's based): hubris and pride will doom the greatest of warriors.

The actors are quite good in this arena, with John Malkovich particularly standing out as the darkly complicated Unferth, though despite how close these animated figures have come to approximating human beings, there's an emptiness to them that still seems creepy. Their bodies have a strange weightlessness, and they often remind me of the human characters in the Shrek movies. Also, at times Angelina Jolie's character somehow looks worse than she does in real life (and I'm talking about scenes in which she is supposed to be stunning), which seems preposterous given that she is already unbelievably beautiful.

Bottom line: It's visually neat, if not a bit of an assault on the senses, but I sincerely hope this isn't our "future of filmmaking" as the promos for this movie keep promising.

Images courtesy of Paramount

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