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Robert Zemeckis
Ray Winstone, Robin Wright Penn, Anthony Hopkins, John Malkovich, Angelina Jolie, Crispin Glover, Charlotte Salt, Julene Renee, Greg Ellis, Rik Young, Sebastian Roché
Writing Credits:
Neil Gaiman, Roger Avary, Anonymous (epic poem, "Beowulf")

Pride is the curse.

In the age of heroes comes the mightiest warrior of them all, Beowulf. After destroying the overpowering demon Grendel, he incurs the undying wrath of the beast's ruthlessly seductive mother who will use any means possible to ensure revenge. The ensuing epic battle throughout the ages, immortalizing the name Beowulf. Academy Award-winning director Robert Zemeckis tells the oldest epic tale in the English language with the most modern technology, advancing the cinematic forum through the magic of digitally enhanced live action. A stellar cast is led by Ray Winstone in the title role. Joining him are Academy Award winner Anthony Hopkins as the cursed King Hrothgar, John Malkovich, Robin Wright Penn, Brendan Gleeson, Crispin Glover, Alison Lohman, and Oscar Winner Angelina Jolie as Grendel's mother.

Box Office:
$150 million.
Opening Weekend
$27.515 million on 3153 screens.
Domestic Gross
$82.161 million.

Rated NR

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 114 min.
Price: $29.99
Release Date: 2/26/2008

• Deleted Scenes
• "A Hero’s Journey: The Making of Beowulf" Featurette
• “Beasts of Burden: Designing the Creatures of Beowulf” Featurette
• “The Origins of Beowulf” Featurette
• “Creating the Ultimate Beowulf” Featurette
• “The Art of Beowulf” Featurette
• Trailer
• Previews


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Harman/Kardon DPR 2005 7.1 Channel Receiver; Toshiba A-30 HD-DVD/1080p Upconverting DVD Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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Beowulf: Unrated Director's Cut (2007)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 18, 2008)

Maybe someday Robert Zemeckis will direct a movie with good old-fashioned human actors, but for now, he prefers to stick with digital performers. Oh, flicks like 2004’s Polar Express and 2007’s Beowulf feature human thespians behind the scenes, as they use motion-capture techniques, but on screen, we see nothing but computer animated versions of the folks.

Here Zemeckis adapts the classic epic poem for the modern age. When a misshapen monster named Grendel (Crispin Glover) terrorizes a Danish realm, Prince Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins) sends out a call for a hero to slay the beast. Into this setting comes manly-man Beowulf (Ray Winstone), a character who may be a better self-promoter than a fighter. The movie shows his attempts to slay Grendel as well as other adventures.

At its best, Beowulf strikes me as a Lord of the Rings lite. I don’t mean that as a criticism, really, though it may sound that way. The flick clearly appears to use Peter Jackson’s epic as its blueprint in the way it stages action and treats events. Beowulf doesn’t feel like a rip-off of LOTR, but without Jackson’s work, it seems tough to imagine it would exist.

At its best, Beowulf provides a reasonably rousing adventure. It doesn’t tell a particularly complex tale; despite some complex ambitions, it usually remains a pretty simple man vs. beast story. Nonetheless, within its plot and character restrictions, it boasts some entertaining action. I think it probably works best without much depth, simply because the lack of embellishment allows the action to shine more brightly.

Unfortunately, a lot of the movie’s strengths become submerged under its biggest weakness: the character rendering. If you look at my review for Polar Express, you’ll see that one major complaint related to the animation. The participants all looked disconcertingly artificial, and this took away any potential the film possessed to become the heartwarming holiday fable it aspired to be.

Over the three years between Express and Beowulf, the technology improved, so the characters in the latter don’t look quite as zombie-like as those in the former. In addition, I can’t claim that the rendering harms Beowulf as much as it affected Express. Granted, the latter wouldn’t have been very good under any circumstance, as it just didn’t translate to the screen well, but the animation killed it. Beowulf still manages some pleasures despite the visuals.

That said, I never could quite get past the ugliness of the character art. Faces betrayed no expressiveness, as they always remained stiff and artificial. The movie tried for photo-real looks but ended up more like Shrek characters. The humans were caught in some awkward Neverland between true realism and cartooniness. This doesn’t work in the Shrek films – I’ve always disliked their style choices – and it fails even more notably here. The characters suffer from such a plastic look that it becomes impossible to invest in the story. The visuals keep the viewer at a distance since they highlight the fakeness of the whole enterprise.

And that’s a shame, since Beowulf could’ve been a lot of fun. It Zemeckis had gone the LOTR and staged the film as a live-action spectacle with plenty of CG enhancement, it would’ve probably been very good. Oh, it slips at times, such as when Beowulf fights naked. The filmmakers use so many silly devices to obscure Beowulf’s manhood that the movie threatens to turn into an Austin Powers farce.

But otherwise, Beowulf has its moments. Or it would have its moments if I could accept the stiff character animation and buy into the story. Maybe others can better accept the movie’s visuals, but I can’t, and that issue makes Beowulf very difficult to enjoy.

Note that this DVD of Beowulf provides the film’s “Director’s Cut”. Since I never saw the theatrical version, I can’t relate any differences. However, I think the changes are minor based very similar running times; I wouldn’t expect any notable alterations for this “Director’s Cut”.

The DVD Grades: Picture A-/ Audio B+/ Bonus C+

Beowulf appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. I found a lot to like about this strong transfer.

Very few issues affected sharpness. I thought some wider shots looked a little soft, but nothing significant marred the presentation. The movie almost always came across as concise and accurate. No jagged edges or shimmering materialized, and edge enhancement was absent. Source flaws also caused no concerns through this clean flick.

In terms of colors, Beowulf went with an earthy palette. Golden hues dominate the film, so don’t anticipate a broad array of tones. Within these constraints, the colors were appropriate and clear. Blacks seemed dark and full, while shadows proved smooth and well-defined. Given the dominance of dimly lit scenes, those elements were especially important, and the movie pulled them off well. This was a consistently positive presentation.

Although not quite as good, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Beowulf also satisfied. The soundfield wasn’t tremendously active, but it added plenty to the tale. As one might expect, the action scenes boasted the best material, as they showed good movement and vivacity. Elements filled the room and created a nice sense of the battles. Otherwise, we got good stereo music as well as solid environmental information.

Audio quality was perfectly satisfying. Speech was natural and concise, without edginess or other issues. Music sounded rich and dynamic, and effects worked in the same manner. Those elements showed nice clarity and accuracy, and bass response was quite rich. The audio complemented the visuals in a positive manner.

As we head to the DVD’s extras, we start with five featurettes. A Hero’s Journey: The Making of Beowulf goes for 23 minutes, 54 seconds as it offers a look at the “virtual shoot”. We get plenty of footage from the set as well as a few behind the scenes glimpses of the technical processes. A smattering of comments from participants crop up along the way, but mostly this piece shows us how things worked on the set. It’s a great look at the complicated – and often silly-looking – manner in which the film was created with the live actors.

For the six-minute, 56-second Beasts of Burden: Designing the Creatures of Beowulf, we get notes from producer Steve Starkey, production designer Doug Chiang, director Robert Zemeckis, writers Roger Avary and Neil Gaiman, and actor Crispin Glover. They tell us about the designs of Grendel, Grendel’s mother, the dragon and the sea monster. Plenty of good details appear during this short but efficient piece.

The Origins of Beowulf fills five minutes and 12 seconds with remarks from Zemeckis, Gaiman, Starkey, and Avary. They discuss the film’s story and the adaptation of the classic poem. We learn a lot about the changes made for this version of the tale in this tight little show.

Next comes the one-minute and 58-second Creating the Ultimate Beowulf. It features Starkey, Chiang, Zemeckis, and actor Ray Winstone. It provides a few notes about the Beowulf character and how Winstone got the role. It’s too brief to convey much, unfortunately, and it feels fluffy.

Finally, The Art of Beowulf goes for five minutes, 25 seconds and includes Zemeckis, Chiang, Gaiman, and Avary. They chat about visual and set design. This becomes another useful program despite its brevity, as it packs in a decent amount of information into its short running time.

Six Deleted Scenes run a total of 10 minutes, seven seconds. We find “Wealthow Shows Beowulf the Sundial” (1:41), “Beowulf Boasts to the People of Herot” (1:11), “Celebration and Seduction” (2:12), “Wulgar Greets Beowulf At the Stockade” (1:20), “Beowulf’s Day/Unferth Finds the Horn” (2:30) and “Cain on the Barrows (Original)” (1:10). All seem eminently forgettable, to be honest. Some minor character moments appear, but not anything that would add to the film.

A few ads open the DVD. We get clips for Iron Man, Shine a Light and The Kite Runner. These also appear in the Previews area. In addition, the disc gives us the flick’s theatrical trailer.

I think that Beowulf could – and should – have been a lively action-adventure. At times, it almost achieves its goals, but unfortunately, the decision to use awkward, fake-looking computer animation renders all its positives moot. The characters look so artificial and plastic that they constantly distract the viewer. The DVD offers excellent picture quality, very good audio, and a small complement of moderately useful extras. Beowulf has its moments but fails to consistently satisfy.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.8 Stars Number of Votes: 25
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