Beowulf: Unrated Director’s Cut
February 29, 2008
After leaving behind live-action motion pictures for the computer-animated adaptation of The Polar Express (2004), Robert Zemeckis utilized the same technology for another adaptation – Beowulf (2007). With the help of author Neil Gaiman and screenwriter Roger Avary, Zemeckis has re-interpreted this classic epic myth with state-of-the-art digital technology. The Polar Express was a massive financial success and with the help of canny marketing in the same vein as 300 (2006), another highly stylized film that used digital technology, Beowulf was also a huge hit at the box office.
After a grotesque monster named Grendel (Glover) viciously kills several of his people, the King (Hopkins) offers a substantial amount of gold to kill the monster and get rid of the curse that is has created. Famed monster slayer Beowulf (Winstone) arrives and boldly promises to kill Grendel. To complicate matters, Beowulf is attracted to the Queen (Wright Penn). He is full of cocky swagger and is able to back it up, easily besting Grendel upon their first encounter which doesn’t sit too well with his very powerful mother (Jolie).
As he did with The Polar Express, Zemeckis shot a bare bones version of the film with live actors and then animated overtop of them. The animation is as realistic as current technology will allow, replicating such details as hair and beads of water on skin quite well but human skin still has that slightly waxy, unreal look. Blood (copious amounts of which is spilled early in the film) doesn’t look quite right but perhaps that was done to appease the censors. The animators have also done an admirable job replicating the movie stars that appear in the film with Anthony Hopkins and John Malkovich being the most recognizable of the lot.
Beowulf tells the story of a flawed hero and his redemption. Gaiman and Avary have done an excellent job adapting this classic story. Although, Angelina Jolie is kind of wasted in this film. For such a strong actress she has little screen time and really should have been utilized more. This style of computer animation has not quite been perfected yet but has improved considerably since The Polar Express. That being said, Beowulf still has that feeling of watching a very expensive video game.
“A Hero’s Journey: The Making of Beowulf” features Zemeckis taking us through the making of the film. We see the first day of rehearsals where the director shows his cast the unusual set and the gear that they’ll be wearing so that they can be CGI-animated overtop. With a green grid on their faces and a black jumpsuit with lines and sensors, the actors look a bit ridiculous but the end results are impressive. We also see the sensor suit footage compared to the final footage.
“Beasts of Burden – Designing the Creatures of Beowulf” features Zemeckis, Crispin Glover and several visual effects artists talking about their take on Grendel. Avary and Gaiman talk about how they interpreted Grendel’s mother. There are clips of the various monsters being rendered on the computer juxtaposed with the final product.
“The Origins of Beowulf” takes a look at this classic epic tale and its influence over the centuries. There is a timeless quality that invites repeated interpretations. Avary and Gaiman talk about how they approached adapting the original poem.
“Creating the Ultimate Beowulf” briefly examines why they cast Ray Winstone and how they matched his performance with an ideal CGI look.
“The Art of Beowulf” takes a look at the paintings that inspired the look of the film. The filmmakers went to great lengths to be historically accurate when possible but also know when take some artistic license.
Also included are six deleted scenes that are shown in crude, unfinished CGI form with the voices of the cast members. It’s a little distracting but one gets the gist of what this footage was trying to say.
Finally, there is a theatrical trailer.