Beowulf promises epic status in 3-D, but seems childish on a traditional screen
The question that kept running through my mind while watching Beowulf was, “Why on earth did Robert Zemeckis decide to do this in animation?” The answer, it seems, lies in specialized 3-D and IMAX theaters. Unfortunately there’s nothing of the kind in Chico.
So, we’re stuck with the flat version of an epic, with actors painted over with digital ink that sucks the life right out of them. Ironically, the character who appears the most lifelike is almost completely digitalized (Ray Winstone looks nothing like Beowulf).
The Old English tale opens in a town inhabited by a dreadful demon named Grendel that strikes at the merriest of moments. King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins) offers a handsome reward to whoever can kill him. Beowulf, a warrior with more than a few slayings under his belt, arrives to be the town’s savior.
Battles of epic proportions ensue, and there is plenty of bloodshed. For a PG-13 rating, there’s also quite a bit of nudity. But it’s animated, so who cares, right? For Beowulf’s showdown with Grendel, he strips naked and we’re spared the sight of his unmentionables only by conveniently placed objects (think Austin Powers). And Angelina Jolie, who plays Grendel’s revenge-seeking mother, is shown almost entirely in the flesh. That’s probably enough in itself to get the teenage boys to the theater.
Nuances are apparent, as when the identity of Grendel’s father is first revealed. And the story itself is well told. But trying to read expressions on the characters’ lifeless faces, particularly that of Queen Wealthow (Robin Wright Penn), is just plain frustrating. What’s the point, really, in having a cast of great actors only to paint over their greatest tools? Zemeckis did this once before with Polar Express, and while Tom Hanks’ character looked kinda creepy, at least it was a kids movie asking very little sophistication from its audience. Here, one can only imagine cunning glances from Unferth (John Malkovich) and pained smiles from Wealthow—mere promises of what could have been, minus technology.
I have no doubt that in 3-D the graphics alone could make up for any shortcomings that come with digitalizing the cast. In fact, critics who have seen the film in 3-D or IMAX have raved. But Beowulf was made for that, not for a flat screen, where epic is reduced to cheesy and bordering on unbearable.