by Mary Claire WaireriBased on the Old English poem of the same name, this epic, action romp bursts onto our screens from the imagination of Forrest Gump director Robert Zemeckis. Imagination being the operative word, since the finished product has as much to do with the original poem as this week’s issue of Heat magazine. In fact, he admits ‘nothing about the original poem appealed to me’. Of course, departure from the original text is not in itself a criticism, but some sort of health warning needs to be attached to Beowulf, because I imagine anyone watching it with the intention of seeing the epic poem realised in celluloid will be in for a very nasty shock.
For those troglodytes who remain unacquainted with Beowulf, it is the tale of a young, heroic warrior (played by Ray Winstone) who offers to save the Danish kingdom of King Hrothgar from the monster Grendel – a ruthless beast that wreaks havoc in the kingdom, feasting on its subjects and leaving chaos in his wake. After Beowulf slays Grendel, the beast’s mother (played by Angelina Jolie) emerges to avenge her son’s death. The adaptation was filmed using the performance capture technique – this involved the actors wearing form fitting suits covered with motion sensors and performing in front of a green screen. The actors’ movements were then digitally recorded; think Gollum in Lord of the Rings. In addition, Beowulf will be screened in 3-D at dozens of cinemas across the UK, which basically means that you get to wear goofy glasses, and stuff flies out at you in a rather menacing but altogether thrilling way.
Yet all the dazzling effects, and a cast of such respected actors as Anthony Hopkins and John Malkovitch, cannot disguise the fact that Beowulf falls seriously short; there’s minimum character development, the dialogue is clumsy and the narrative arc is incoherent at best. Zemeckis seems more interested in laying a lascivious eye on Angelina Jolie’s naked body than in injecting any emotional complexity into the story. So, while Beowulf is eminently watchable, it is neither original nor particularly memorable.
Zemeckis has a lot to answer for here. He had skilled actors and state-of-the-art effects at his disposal and the best he could come up with was a few action sequences, peppered with gratuitous nude shots of a digitally enhanced Ray Winstone, all strung together with some supposedly snappy one-liners. Not to mention some shocking anachronisms – it seems seriously unlikely that Grendel’s mother would have worn gold stilettos, for starters. But of course, it’s equally unlikely that Zemeckis spent more than five minutes developing his ideas, or that anyone who watches Beowulf can expect to leave the cinema feeling anything more than bemusement, that so much money was put behind such an ill-conceived project. It could have been so much more. Instead, what we have is a lazy, uninspiring and emotionally bankrupt film.