BEOWULF Blu-ray Review

     August 12, 2008

Reviewed by Andre Dellamorte

For the Danes, they have a great hall, and a great pagan life. Their king Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins) has given them everything but an heir, and with his beautiful wife Walthrow (Robin Wright-Penn), there might be soon. But then everything goes to chaos when Grendel (Crispin Glover) shows up. He kills almost every but Hrothgar and his wife, and so the the town lets it be known they’ve got a monster problem.

Enter Swedes Beowulf (Ray Winstone) – a six foot six man of action – and his trusted sidekick Wiglaf (Brendan Gleeson) to the hall. They set out to provoke Grendel to attack, and Beowulf plans on meeting the beast mano e mano and naked as the day he was born. Such is his hubris. But when going to face Grendel’s mother (Angelina Jolie), he finds that he follows in the footsteps of Hrothgar rather literally, and some thirty years later or so must pay the price for his weaknesses, in the form a of a giant golden dragon, who wreaks havoc on his kingdom.

I grew up with Robert Zemeckis, and he was – at one time – one of the wittiest filmmakers who used Kodak. There’s no getting around it, both Used Cars and Back to the Future are perfectly designed contraptions of fun. Perfect in their way. Nowadays, Zemeckis is more interested in toys,, and his latest toy is motion capture, or mo-caping, which allows you to just let the actors act in a space, and decide everything later. Truly. Every angle is covered, every emotion recorded. Once all that’s input, the rest is fleshed out as the director decides where everything belongs.

And Beowulf is a good film for this format as you could never find an actor as great as Ray Winstone that is that tall and buff. You couldn’t age characters that much as effectively as digital imagery can. So it passes that test. It’s an exciting, and smart film with a literate and smart script by Neil Gaiman and Roger Avery. And it’s a smart and well put together film where the textures and look are excellent. It’s definitely worth seeing, and almost hurdles the “cartoon” factor.

Alas, the Blu-ray version comes with “In the Volume” where you can watch the actors act, and in the Lars Von Trier version of the film, I found myself sucked in even more. You still can’t replace actors with pixels. And as happy I am that Zemeckis is at least more engaged here than he was with The Polar Express, the film is impossibly minor because animation dilutes the film in some ways. Animation, motion capture still feels like a bastard child because of the uncanny valley. In its way, Monster House is preferable.

Paramount’s Blu-ray is the tits, though. The picture quality and soundtrack (in TrueHD) are as good as the format gets. Watching pebbles move out of a boat’s way, to the subtle details of hair and facial movements, it’s a knock out, across the board. And so are the extras. Besides the picture in picture “in the Volume” which lets you see the actors going through their motions, there are a ton of supplements. First up is “A Hero’s Journey: The Making of Beowulf” (24 min.) which can be watched in an expanded version that also has trivia subs. Those expanded pieces can also be viewed separately (20 min.). There’s “Beasts of Burden” (12 min.) on the creature design, “The Origin of Beowulf” (5 min.) “The Ultimate Beowulf” (2 min.) and “The Art of Beowulf” (5 min.). These are small bits that give you a fuller picture of the making of the film, more so than the legend, which Zemeckis suggests is high school reading material. Which he also says in “A Conversation with Robert Zemeckis” (10 min.), where he does a Q&A with film students. Also included are eleven deleted scenes (12 min.), and the film’s theatrical trailer.

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