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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

Join The Conversation
Renees3 Renees3 9 years
I'm a little behind here, but I just saw it in 3D imax and it was AMAZING! There was a little issues with the 3D, but not enough to bother me. I just thought it was GREAT. Some of the close ups of peoples faces were downright AMAZING!!!!!!!
MisterPinkNoTip MisterPinkNoTip 9 years
I saw this in IMAX 3D and thought it was amazing. I didn't have any problems with moving around and still being able to view the 3D without it distorting.
mariemjs mariemjs 9 years
Hey there... as a 3D animator working on cartoons, music videos, and feature films, I would like to point out that Beowful is NOT an animated film.... Its a motion captured film that surely show a great range of technology, but the characters hasnt been ANIMATED by human beings, merely captured and that's all. It has been a common mistake to name that movie an "animation" movie, and seriously, for us animators, that hurts. Animation is people who are in front of the computer, giving life to 3D characters by imagining their moves, emotions, actions, feelings, etc. Motion capture is purely technical, sometimes some animators are brought in to finalise some stuff(especially with facial animations, but the fish-eyes and dead eyes are still there no matter what, uh...), but its done by technology. I just want to correct that, so that people will stop mixing things, and understand we are talking about two very different medias, and also understand how frustrating it is for us to see this kind of movie made under the "animation" logo. Thanks :)
tiabia tiabia 9 years
I saw it last night in Digital 3D and thought it was GREAT. Although I did have a stiff neck since I was sitting 2 rows from the screen and had to look up the entire time, LOL, which begs the question why are their seats THAT close to where you're sight gaze is BELOW the screen, just asking. As for the material, I haven't read Beowulf is almost 10 years, so some parts where they took liberties had me a bit confused, and it actually has me wanting to reread Beowulf. I guess my major issue (aside from the stiff neck, and obvious massage bill that will be pending) is that the general viewing public probably aren't all that familiar with the material, which makes for an interesting (and comical at times) movie experience.
princess_eab princess_eab 9 years
As a medievalist I'm not sure I can see this in good conscience.... though I'm really interested in the cultural implications of such a film.
raqchel raqchel 9 years
I saw it at IMAX in 3D twice. I may go see it again with a friend today.*hides behind corner* That movie was great! This was my first 3D IMAX experience.
Fancy04 Fancy04 9 years
I don't think I'll see this movie.
darkoblivion darkoblivion 9 years
I saw it also in 3-D on the IMAX screen last night. I absolutely loved it.
ligaya ligaya 9 years
P.S. I saw both shows in IMAX 3D - which I think is ideal. If an IMAX isn't near you, then DLP 3D is next best.
ligaya ligaya 9 years
8.5-9 out of 10. According to Reelz Dailies: Phenomenal. Rotten Tomatoes: 72%. (My husband & I didn't have any problems with stiff necks & sideways distortion - I guess we held our heads still naturally, because we didn't make an effort to. I saw Beowulf for a 2nd time today & I was OK too. I often see a movie twice - once for first impressions, again for what I might have missed the first time.) I liked it even more the 2nd time. When I got out of 11am show (1/3 full; the Thursday, 9:30pm show had a full house, and there was a midnight show too), people were already in line for 1:45pm show. It was all I could do to keep myself from buying another ticket - like teens riding roller coasters several times in a row, or teen girls seeing Titanic/Notebook, and fanboys with multiple viewings of Star Wars. OH YEAH, definitely worth seeing in 3D, and the IMAX 3D is superlative. Does the movie/story work? A resounding yes. You don’t have to know the classic story, and if you do know it – it’s interesting to see the changes the scriptwriters made. The first half is a little slow because it’s setting up the last half – which is a more than satisfying payoff. The movie asks: what is a hero?, what is a monster?, what is human? It’s very moving, and I had a few teary moments. My highlights: starting with the IMAX 10-second countdown, sheet of water in the opening credits, the running joke early on, Grendel vs. Beowulf fight, Grendel’s mom, the DRAGON – best I’ve ever seen. The final action sequence must be seen to be believed. I did get the epic, heroic, bigger than life feeling. I felt the same feelings like when (dating myself) I watched Steve Reeves' Hercules movies, Jason & the Argonauts, etc. Angelina has limited visual screen time, a little less than John Malkovich, but she is present throughout the movie either with her voice or characters talking about her. And her character is as key to the story as Beowulf. At the first sight of Angelina emerging from the pool (a la Marlon Brando in Apocalypse now and many movies since), the 75% male audience were moaning and cheering. It was really quite funny. With every reveal from her face to her breasts to her torso to her pelvic area to her heels and finally to the whole digital Angelina, dripping in chocolate gold, the fanboys reacted. Her face is Shiseido-ad perfection. Angelina’s performance was spot on, literally pitch perfect. Totally seductive, not evil, it’s her words as much as her appearance that mortal men find impossible to ignore. It’s their souls they willingly hand over as she exploits their weaknesses and becomes the agent of their downfall. (I thought that this must be what anti-Angelina haters believe Angelina the person to be.) Sir Anthony is magnificent as always, Ray Winstone heroic, and Crispin Glover as Grendel is as pitiful as he is monstrous. Brendan Gleeson, Beowulf’s second in command, gives a wonderful performance. Beowulf looks nothing like Ray Winstone, Grendel’s mom looks totally like Angelina, and we recognize Sir Anthony’s & Malkovich’s faces & voices but they have different bodies from their own, Robin Wright Penn & Alison Lohman look nothing like themselves. Motion-capture and 3D: The 3D is incredible/magnificent. At first, it was like looking at those toy stereoscopes (can’t remember their names – senior moment). Then it became naturally 3D like our real world. The switch from 2D to 3D is going to be like the change from silent movies to talkies. The motion capture is about 80-90% there. Some of the characters are a little stiff and not realistic, others Like Angelina we could swear was real not digital, galloping horses need improvement. I think are awards worthy: animation, stirring musical score, sound, production & costume design. (BTW, in the 2 screenings I went to the audience laughed at Angelina Jolie's heels like "cool.")
mrskrismendoza mrskrismendoza 9 years
This movie looked boring. I'll wait for it on t.v. maybe.
hotstuff hotstuff 9 years
I just got back from seeing Beowulf NOT in 3D and I thought it was GREAT! I was really impressed with the CGI and truthfully after 5min of watching you forget it's CGI. The details in the faces and the monsters were amazing! Especially Beowulf's character he looked REAL! Tons of great fight scenes. Grendel was scary as hell and as soon as I saw him I was glad I didn't see it in 3D he was so gross looking. I also enjoyed the story makes me want to read the book again. I say go check it out for yourself.
Shiloh-Jolie-Pitt Shiloh-Jolie-Pitt 9 years
:-( I'm going next week to see for myself.
Entertainment Entertainment 9 years
Yeah, you know, Phasekitty, I was at the screening with a friend of mine who is a huge Gaiman fan and he was kind of baffled. I don't think it destroys his perception of the guy, but the script is oddly not-that-great. They took some liberties with the original work — which was probably necessary — but in general what was annoying was the lack of consistency. Like, one moment Unferth is sarcastic, mean and funny, so in the next scene when he's trying to be sincere, everyone laughed as though he was joking (he wasn't). I think maybe it's just really hard to cram such an epic thing into a couple hours.
Phasekitty Phasekitty 9 years
Ugh- I'm so sorry to hear this one isn't that great. I had a bad experience with IMAX 3D when I saw Harry Potter- it made me dizzy and the action was often blurry. I have yet to have a problem with Digital 3D, in fact I think it's loads better, so I'm going to try out Beowulf like that. How was the script and adaptation? The most appealing thing about this movie to me is that it was written by my favorite author, Neil Gaiman. His script for Stardust this year rocked- I'd hate to see him end the year on such a down note. Ah well, I still can't wait to see it tomorrow, right after I finish brushing up on the poem. :)
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