If there’s an overall theme to take away from the 3-D, wannabe epic Beowulf it’s this: Angelina Jolie is the downfall of mankind. But we’ll get to that later.
Like he did in The Polar Express, Robert Zemeckis’ Beowulf — which opens Nov. 16 — uses motion-capture technology to create a digital world with digital characters that resemble their real-life counterparts. He has honed his craft a bit since Express, and though his latest release is certainly good looking, it’s sort of like watching a video game on the big screen. The computer-generated characters — even if they seem realistic — make it difficult to feel any emotion. It is Lord of the Rings without a heartbeat. But at least there are plenty of drool-worthy, bloody, testosterone-fueled action scenes.
It all starts in 507 A.D. Danish King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins, Fracture) and his people seemingly sp/files/storyimages/their days “merry making” in the village’s great hall. They sing and get drunk until the demon Grendel shows up to crash the party. The gruesome monster looks as if he was left on a gas-powered grill a bit too long. As his slobber drips off the screen, he snaps the king’s people in half and gnaws on body parts like they’re sticks of chewing gum. King Hrothgar soon realizes the remedy needed to cure his cursed lands: “What we need is a hero,” he says.
Enter Beowulf, who can kill massive sea monsters with a single dagger. He’s so confident he can take down Grendel that his strips to the buff so they can “fight as equals.” (Beowulf’s strategically hidden — uh — sword provides a few good chuckles.) Ray Winstone (who had a minor role in The Departed) plays the title character, and as you could guess from the trailers, he has a knack for screaming, “I. Am. Beowulf!”
He defeats the monster, but reveals his flaw when he can’t do away with a nude Angelina Jolie (A Mighty Heart), who plays Grendel’s mother. (Who could, right?) It’s a mistake that haunts him for the rest of his life.
Targeted at fans of movies such as 300, Beowulf may lack in character development — although a computer-animated John Malkovic (Being John Malkovich) somehow still manages to steal every scene he’s in —but at least the novelty of the 3-D experience doesn’t wear off. The sequence in which Beowulf holds on to the back of a flying, fire-breathing dragon and attempts to slay the beast is worth the price of admission. The landscape shots are pretty cool, too. And we guarantee you’ll try to dodge the arrows, spears and axes when they hurtle toward your head.
The script, by Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary, strays so far from the source material — an Old English epic poem — that it’s a shame comments weren’t omitted about blaming a “Christ God” for the kingdom’s problems. The distracting remarks don’t serve a purpose here and feel tacked on, but moviegoers probably won’t notice them anyway. After all, they’ll surely still be thinking about a 3-D Jolie with gold melting off her skin.