Beowulf Robert Zemeckis

Beowulf Robert Zemeckis

Cynics may be tough to crack but Beowulf is capable of cleaving the thickest of barriers. Sure to divide critics with its use of CGI motion-capture techniques Zemeckis explored in Polar Express, I doubt audiences will have much reservation.

Beowulf looks, and is, spectacular. Eclipsing all previous work with the medium, the film’s technical achievements are marvellous. But Beowulf’s excellence doesn’t hinge purely on technical feats. Writers Neil Gaimen and Roger Avary have crafted a sophisticated, sly, bawdy telling of the epic poem. Creative license is taken but key story elements are more accurately portrayed than other cinematic adaptations of the material.

Beowulf is a legendary hero of the Geats, who takes up the challenge of defeating the hideous Grendel, a troll who has been terrorising a Danish mead hall. Suffice to say, this battle is only the beginning, and the clever weaving together of some of the poem’s debated ambiguities, particularly regarding Grendel’s mother (A nearly naked CGI Angelina Jolie), provides deeper opportunity to explore the nature of love, lust, pride and responsibility.

The fantastic cast breathe life into their occasionally eerie digital bodies. Anthony Hopkins is the best drunken, half-mad/naked king money can buy and Ray Winstone inhabits the hero’s body so well it’s easy to forgot he looks nothing like his on-screen character. Nor does Crispin Glover as Grendel, possibly the most fantastically hideous beast ever seen on screen.

The animation looks best when applied to men and monsters — at times Beowulf’s breezy beard stubble made me forgot he wasn’t a real person. However, the effects team has yet to overcome the waxy smooth skin of female faces.

Easily the best epic fantasy adventure of the year, surpassing 300 and in many ways on par with The Lord of the Rings, covering similar themes far more swiftly, Beowulf is a thrilling must-see experience. Especially in 3D on an IMAX screen. Be ready to flinch like you’re in shock therapy. (Warner)