Beowulf is being released on four formats: 35mm, digital, digital 3D and IMAX. This review is based on the IMAX version, Beowulf being the first mainstream film to successfully employ this technology.
Much of the initial wow factor is down to the special effects. Director Roger Zemeckis (Back to The Future) has been mixing up live action with cartoons since he helmed Who Framed Roger Rabbit back in 1988 before jumping on the Polar Express 15 years later. Zemeckis is clearly on a mission to illustrate how far mixing real actors with animation has evolved in two decades by employing the performance capture technique utilised in 300 to bring the anonymous epic poem alive.
The fight between the warrior Beowulf and the evil dragon is a new high mark in action and the technology also has the effect of broadening the range of the cast. Ray Winstone, given the Photoshop treatment, is transformed into a gladiator who can riff on Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus without looking silly while Angelina Jolie is sexier than ever as the evil mother of Grendel.
Countless brainless blockbusters have demonstrated that great special effects cannot hide a duff script. Thankfully, writers Neil Gaiman (MirrorMask, Sandman) and Roger Avary (who contributed to Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and True Romance) have joined forces to fill in the huge plot holes evident in the Anglo-Saxon poem. Avary and Gaiman lay on the sexual innuendo and adultery, fleshing out the character of Beowulf into a believably unreliable narrator. Meanwhile, questions relating to the original text that have bothered scholars for centuries (such as: who is the third dragon appearing 50 years after Beowulf has defeated Grendel, here played by Crispin Glover, and his mother?) are now answered.
Purists, however, will be pleased that the writers have not junked the original premise that man is defined by his sins. Indeed, it would be a sin to miss this superior blockbuster in this spectacular IMAX version.
General release from Fri 16 Nov.