Reviewer: Charity Bishop
Beowulf is the oldest known legend in the English language, adapted from a series of what we can only presume was the Norse mythology of the hero that inspired such figures as King Arthur. The original poem is somewhat tedious and disjointed, and this recent film is only partially like it, filling in the story and making some major changes in order to promote it toward modern audiences.
The kingdom belonging to King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins) is being terrorized by a violent half-demon by the name of Grendel (Crispin Glover), whose sensitivity to noise makes him particularly wrathful against the shouting and carrying on that transpires in the local mead house. Leaving devastation and rampant bodies in his wake, he threatens the lives and livelihoods of all, and Hrothgar desires to find a man capable of defeating him. His hero comes in the form of Beowulf (Ray Winstone), known for his acts of astounding courage and the defeat of numerous sea monsters and other devils of the northern world. Respected by his men and feared by his enemies, it does not take him long to cast his eye on Hrothgar's beautiful but emotionally distant wife, Wealthow (Robin Wright Penn).
In a climactic battle that leaves carnage rampant in its wake, Beowulf wounds Grendel enough that he is forced to crawl back into his cave and perish in the arms of his mother, a water demon (Angelina Jolie). Her rage is absolute and only hours after Beowulf has been claimed as a hero, honored by the people and given the gift of a magnificent golden horn, she returns to extract vengeance for her son's murder, leaving him no choice but to hunt her down and defeat her as well. But once in her cave of wonders, Beowulf comes to discover that the lure of absolute can be stronger than anything he has before encountered.
When I first saw images from the film, I wondered if my eyes were playing tricks on me, because it was not immediately apparent that this was a live-action animated feature. This may be a trend that takes off in future years, since computer technology has come so far that they are now capable of making realistic human images, and in that sense Beowulf is an absolute masterpiece. There are moments when the computer animation is not fully rendered (the horses look the most fake, but all of the humans, dragons, and other CGI creatures are absolutely astounding) but most of it left me with my mouth open, because visually it is magnificent. Sometimes the characters look almost human, their facial expressions are so real. Other reviewers have remarked that it's impossible for a cold 3D image to convey true emotion, and to a degree, this is true, but Beowulf is not meant to invoke any magnificent response in its audience other than excitement, so it's ultimately forgivable.
I'm sorry they chose to go the cheap route of CGI nudity (apparently, it shocked Jolie to the point of forbidding her children to see it) because the film is absolutely fabulous. It was fun -- and it looks incredible on a flat screen.
Beowulf decides to battle Grendel naked; there are many shots of him from the side and behind as he chases down the creature and kills it. Careful foreground objects and shadows cover his crotch throughout. We see the king's backside when he loses his robe in a drunken speech. The female water demon first appears as a topless mermaid (shadows obscure most of it) and then reveals herself completely to Beowulf in a desirable female form. Basically, she's naked and dripping in shimmering golden paint; there are glances down various women's shirts, a few sexual innuendos, and the implication that something kinky is going on behind a table. Beowulf later has a mistress in addition to his wife.
The film I rented was the director's cut, which I have since learned does not differ much from the theatrical release other than in terms of blood spatter. And there is a lot of it, particularly in early scenes when Grendel literally tears villagers and knights in half, blood gushing out of their wounds. He impales them on spikes. He decapitates them and swallows their heads. He kicks, wrenches, and batters them. Blood spatters the length of the hall, enough that if it were realistic rather than animated, it would have gotten an R-rating. His arm is brutally severed and carried around as a testament to Beowulf's courage. Beowulf wakes up one morning to find everyone from his personal guard hanging from the rafters. He recounts a battle at sea in which he hacks, slashes, and mutilates his way through three sea monsters.