There are one or two compelling reasons to watch Beowulf. One is to find out what Angelina Jolie coated in an oil slick looks like. A second is to find out how the hell the word 'Beowulf' is pronounced. Unfortunately, that's more or less it.
Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins) rules over his 6th century AD Danish kingdom, mostly by encouraging his subjects to drink mead in staggering proportions, and in general have a good time. He is advised by the oily Unferth (John Malkovich), and his endlessly suffering wife Wealthow (Robin Wright Penn) flits about with such a morose demeanor that you cannot but suspect that not all is well in their bedchamber.
Early in the flick, the jollities at Heorot hall come to a precipitate and literally gut-wrenching end, when Grendel (Crispin Glover) shows up and starts to tear apart people in a somewhat distracted manner, as though he were plucking petals from a flower while playing the "He Loves Me... He Loves Me Not" game.
A word or two about this latest cinematic monster from Hollywood's stables is in order. The recipe for creating this fellow is as follows. Take Gollum. Put in Sumeet mixie and run for approximately 30 seconds. Take care that he isn't blended to pulp, but make sure that necessary and sufficient quantities of his innards are seeing the light of day.
Remove from mixie. DO NOT RINSE. Apply a magnification transformation along x, y and z axes so that he's about 10 times larger. Apply an inversion transformation to his head so that one ear drum is showing on the outside of his skull. Fill with green goo, swap the sibilant Middle Earth hiss with a road roller version of Old English. Insert oedipal notions in head, and release.
Grendel also flits about with such a morose demeanour that you cannot but suspect that not all was well in his parents' bedchamber. After raising Cain in Heorot, he slimes back into a dark cave and pool, where his mother (Angelina Jolie) consoles him by whispering sweet nothings in an accent that she forgot to change after 'Alexander'. Those of you who are straining in your seats hoping to catch a glimpse of this mother of all mothers will be disappointed to know that you have a long wait.
Meanwhile, Hrothgar promises half the gold in the Reserve Bank of Danish Kingdom Tormented by Grendel, and sundry dividends like a lifetime supply of mead and maidens to the hero who can rid him of his troubles. Enter Beowulf (Ray Winstone), by way of the Dark Ages equivalent of a transoceanic cruise liner.
Beowulf is a natural born killer with a penchant for PR that is about 15 centuries too early, and much given to making sure that everyone has got his name right ("I am Beowulf!!!" uttered at 6 million decibels). He battles Grendel in the buff, and succeeds in wrenching off the poor sod's arm. We are not sure which is more disturbing. Grendel crawls back into the cave and dies, momma is livid and exacts revenge, and Beowulf has to return to the cave to do battle with her.
That's the first half. Most of the second is what may best be described as a "meditation on heroism"; book-ended by Beowulf's Faustian "interaction" with the sexy oil slick in the beginning, and a thoroughly enjoyable, exhilarating, and all too brief duel with a dragon in the end.
As mindless popcorn flicks go, Beowulf has lots of action (some very gory, this isn't really a movie for kids), much semi-nudity (some male, this isn't really a movie for kids), a plot that is 1,500 years old, and as such is adequate.
If there is one thing that makes Beowulf less than a great entertainer, it's Robert Zemeckis' choice of motion capture technology to bring the legend to life. While it lets you get away with stupendous digital sleights of pixel, like appending a 6-pack body to Ray Winstone's face, there are times when you feel like you're watching Shrek, and that doesn't help. The close-up shots in particular suffer.
All in all, Beowulf is a middling entertainer. If you're the sort who loved 300
and its tragic heroism, you will probably just about like Beowulf. But keep the caveat in mind that the visual effects aren't quite at the 300 mark. The 3D Imax version is possibly a lot more visually appealing.
And oh, that mother of all mothers? She shows up for all of 5 minutes only, and if you're going primarily with visions of Jolie in mind, we can only say, "Avoid, yaar