Saturday, 15 June 2024

Exciting animated 'Beowulf' vividly enhanced by 3-D imagery

BEOWULF (Rated PG-13)

A really boring Old English poem that no one, except musty professors, ever cared about is transformed into a reasonably entertaining and exciting action picture with the help of an animation feature that works best in the 3-D format.

We are talking about “Beowulf,” the circa seventh century epic poem, convoluted and arcane to the point of seeming unlikely source material for a stirring motion picture. The graphic brilliance of the animation procedure employed in “The Polar Express” is enhanced by the type of full-throttle action that infused “300” in order to arrive at a spectacularly immersive experience that transports the audience to the mythic age of heroes.

“Beowulf” employs a digital process that results in what is called “performance capture,” which appears to be a method that uses the human actors as a basis for their animated counterparts. In any event, this inventive cinematic technique permits stunning special effects that, in more graphic scenes, allow for very bloody violence and gruesome eviscerations and dismemberments.

For all its focus on the power of revenge, “Beowulf” is not so much a story of classic heroism and great feats as an excuse to tap into the modern fascination with the artificial video game mentality of extreme violence. This is definitely a movie for the “300” crowd, and not for the fanciers of English literature.

The story begins with an ancient Danish kingdom where King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins) and his beautiful young Queen Wealthow (Robin Wright Penn) celebrate the grand opening of a grand hall with great merriment.

The party noise awakens and disturbs the grotesquely deformed creature Grendel (Crispin Glover), the loathsome spawn of an evil cave-dwelling mother (Angelina Jolie) who has extraordinary seductive powers that ensnare mere mortals. On a vicious rampage, Grendel storms the King’s party and proceeds to dismember and kill many of his soldiers and subjects, leaving behind a horrifically gruesome scene of brutal destruction.

Arriving most fortuitously after the devastation of the Danish kingdom is the legendary Beowulf (Ray Winstone), a physically imposing Viking brimming with daring confidence and ambition. Proud of his physique, Beowulf wears little clothing, and sometimes none at all when he feels up to a challenge. In the modern age, this is a guy who would have a platoon of publicity agents churning out positive reviews of his exploits.

Other heroes have previously failed to vanquish the evil Grendel, but Beowulf fears nothing. With the help of his trusty sidekick Wiglaf (Brendan Gleeson), Beowulf sets a trap to lure the beast back to the grand hall, after which ensues a pitched battle. Beowulf succeeds in ripping off the monster’s arm, and then Grendel slinks back to his cave and dies.

Naturally, Grendel’s mother desires revenge, but first there is a matter of celebration in the Danish kingdom, and Beowulf gains fame and fortune, earning the gratitude of King Hrothgar who decides to leave his throne and wife to the Viking warrior.

Not slinking away from a challenge, Beowulf ventures to the monster’s lair, confronting Grendel’s mother. She has the ability to shift shape easily from a gruesome creature to a seductive beauty that looks very much like Angelina Jolie. Indeed, Beowulf is smitten by her extraordinary loveliness and falls for the trap that has entangled lesser men.

In later years, an older Beowulf is now King, acquiring the spoils of the royal title, including Queen Wealthow. Taking advantage of his prerogatives, Beowulf also has an attractive young mistress, Ursula (Alison Lohman). The kingdom is peaceful and happy, but the tranquility is soon shattered by the arrival of a fire-breathing dragon bent on complete annihilation of the kingdom, and this time the confrontation is a vicious battle in which Beowulf makes the ultimate sacrifice.

An epic tale advanced through the magic of digitally enhanced live-action, “Beowulf” is an interesting film to watch, but for maximum viewing pleasure it would likely be most enjoyed in the IMAX 3-D format.

In fact, watching this film in 3-D may be the only way to go, as the regular two-dimensional viewing won’t bring the characters fully to life.

Tim Riley writes film and television reviews for Lake County News.


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