By Rene Rodriguez, The Miami Herald
Forget those high school memories of terrifying boredom the mere mention of the name Beowulf conjures. The new film adaptation of the Old English poem, which was directed by Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future, Forrest Gump) and written by Neil Gaiman (The Sandman) and Roger Avary (Pulp Fiction, The Rules of Attraction), intends to court not the dusty academic crowd but the slam-bang action fans who lined up for 300 and Gladiator.
Beowulf, which uses the same type of ”performance capture” technology Zemeckis employed in The Polar Express (essentially replacing flesh-and-blood actors with computer-generated facsimiles), is even going out to theaters in 3-D IMAX versions, as well as regular 3-D and 2-D editions. It also pushes its PG-13 rating to its limits in terms of nudity and gory violence. It’s as if the filmmakers did everything they could possibly think of to stifle any reflex-yawns associated with the title.
Mission accomplished. Beowulf is many things, but boring isn’t one of them. The animation, which looks like a really expensive version of the animated intermissions regularly found on videogames, is constantly providing wondrous things to look at, such as the original cranky neighbor Grendel (Crispin Glover), a 20-foot monster who expresses his displeasure at the late-night partying going on within the mead-hall of King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins) by barging in and literally tearing people into pieces.
Drawn by a reward to anyone who can rid the king’s land of the party-pooping brute, the glory-hungry Beowulf (Ray Winstone) faces off against the creature and chases him back all the way to his cave, where his mother (Angelina Jolie, looking even more serpentine and seductive than she does on magazine covers) makes a pact with the warrior.
That agreement, which is the movie’s single biggest departure from the original text, pays off in the second half of the film, when the now-king Beowulf must fight a giant dragon. That sequence alone makes Beowulf worth seeing (preferably in 3-D, but any way you can get it), as long as the glassy-eyed, creepily sterile faces of the computer-animated actors don’t prove so much of a distraction that you cannot savor the epic-scale mayhem Zemeckis has orchestrated here. Beowulf is a little longer than it needs to be, and it’s hard to discern if the movie’s occasional forays with camp (such as Jolie’s entrance, which looks like something out of Madonna’s last tour) were intentional. But those looking for their fix of high-tech medieval head-banging — and granted, it’s a niche group — will get more than their fill.