Beowulf – a film by Robert Zemeckis, director of the mighty Back to the Future trilogy, Oscar winner Forrest Gump, and The Polar Express – is an adult targeted, fully CG animated film based on the legend/poem/book you probably read in fifth form English. Technically it’s quite an accomplishment, and all in all it’s an above average film – albeit a peculiar one – made a bit flat by the soullessness of CG animation.
The story of Beowulf (Ray Winstone) – who arrives in a Danish town to rid it of beasts, only to essentially become one himself because of his own vanity – rips along at a decent pace. There's a refreshing character slant to the story, and it's great to see the characters being flawed and avoiding cliché, including the baddies – Grendel (portrayed by Marty McFly's dad, Crispin Glover) is tortured rather evil, and Grendel's Mother (Angelina Jolie) is a loving one despite her wily ways.
The animation process is such: the actors are required to perform the roles, this performance is 'captured' by a computer, and then replicated as realistic animated versions. They are supposed to look and behave exactly like the original actors aside from adding muscles here, a few inches and a tail there. I'm a bit perplexed by this idea. Why do it? An animated person, especially one restricted by trying to look real, can't convey the range of emotions an actual, real live human can. The net result is a bunch of plastic performances.
Though as a technical exercise, there are impressive aspects. A close up of a face will fool most; such is the realism of the photo realism. The grotesque beasty Grendel and a stunning, gold dragon are the other most spectacular elements. But I note animators are still struggling with horses. The horses in Beowulf look like enthusiastic, inbred donkeys. Also people's hands are a bit rubbery, a bit Postman Pat-ish. This would be fine if you were watching Postman Pat, but Beowulf is trying to look like real life so it stands out.
Oddly, the filmmakers try to sex it up. There's some naked homoerotic wrestling, and some naked Angelina Jolie. Beowulf's computerised johnson is never seen of course, always obscured by a foreground object. And Angelina Jolie doesn't have nipples, or a vagina. But she does have an ass. Is that enjoyable to people? Seeing a naked cartoon character? I think it's really bizarre. Jolie says in interviews that the film is "sexy". Far be it for me to debate Jolie on matters sexy, but I'd say it's sexy for no-one but 14 year old boys.
Maybe I'm old fashioned, but I don't think you can beat real people where real people will do. Also, a CG dragon is far more impressive flapping about and breathing fire on actual people and an actual landscape. And so, I adjudge that Beowulf is the domain of nerds and CG animation enthusiasts (a.k.a., nerds).
As a side note, I saw this on IMAX 3D. The 3D was pretty wicked, and the image very clear. I noticed that kind of double edged look 3D is prone to very rarely. You almost get used to the effect, until the final quarter of the film when the filmmakers pump it up with a heap of flying-from-the-screen-and-coming-at-you 3D stuff. 3D wise, it's very good.