While not quite as epic as 300, it’s still one hell of a good ride.
When the kingdom of King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins) is terrorized by an ungodly creature called The Grendel (Crispin Glover), the call for help is answered by the hero Beowulf (Ray Winstone). While some may call his legendary deeds the lies of a braggart, Beowulf’s pride isn’t his fatal weakness, a fact that Grendel’s mother (Angelina Jolie) is all-too aware of. Beowulf delivers what he promises, but he must later choose whether to allow younger warriors to suffer for his personal atrocities or claim responsibility by dealing with them himself.
There have been plenty attempts at realistic all-CGI (computer generated) productions. Many films these days employ hundreds or even thousands of such effect elements (from the Star Wars prequels to Ghost Rider), but films like Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within and more recently The Polar Express have attempted realistic all-CGI productions with varying success. Grittier fair have finally convinced audiences that animated is no longer synonymous with children’s programming, and the R-rated Beowulf further blurs the line between live-action reality and anything-is-possible fantasy.
The story of Beowulf is timeless, about a capable but prideful warrior who must deal with the consequences of his actions. That leaves the production and characters to flesh out the story, but thanks to CGI, both come together like never before. Not only do these characters sound like the players, they also resemble them in an almost supernatural way, from Anthony Hopkins’ boisterous king to Angel Jolie’s temptress of a demon. From a glint in the eye to the weight on a leg, these animated characters are mostly given away by their flawlessness, but this doesn’t hurt when telling a epic tale such as this.
One note on the 3-D version: I had the opportunity to see this film in a digital theater wearing the non-red/blue 3-D glasses, and the experience is second only to major theme park presentations such as “Captain EO” or “Terminator 3-D.” After the initial thrill wears off, it seems very natural and enhances the presentation. This is also the same kind of technology that James Cameron is promising for 2009’s Avatar, so this may only be a teaser for what Cameron has up his sleeve.
For fans of fantasy stories or who have ever hoped to see a real-life Dungeons & Dragons story brought to life, it’s hard to imagine anything better than this. The epic battle piece of this film includes a full-size dragon being ridden and battled in mid air, giving the audience the sensation of being hurled through the air and plummeting towards certain doom. This is as adventurous as fantasy gets, and we can only hope to see more fantasy stories brought to the big screen with the same kind of detail and presentation. Put on your special glasses, hold on tight, and enjoy the ride.
(a three skull recommendation out of four)