Unlike director Robert Zemeckis' previous animated family-friendly efforts, such as The Polar Express, the violent Beowulf is definitely NOT for the younger set--or the faint of heart. But then again, age-old epic poems seldom are.
Watching Beowulf, you might think, "Yeah, I've seen all this stuff before," but then you realize this was the one story that ruled them all. Once again using his unique motion-capture technology, Zemeckis, along with screenwriters Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary, stunningly brings to life the oldest surviving epic poem in the English language. As it goes, the film is set in an age of heroes, and the mightiest warrior of them all is the Viking Beowulf (Ray Winstone). After destroying the overpowering demon Grendel (Crispin Glover) and saving the Danish kingdom, the old crinkled king (Anthony Hopkins) and his beautiful young queen (Robin Wright Penn) are quite grateful. But alas, Beowulf has also incurred the undying wrath of the beast's ruthlessly seductive mother (Angelina Jolie), who will use any means possible to ensure revenge. The events that follow are what legends are made of.
It must have been rather odd for the actors to see themselves animated in such a way--except for maybe Angelina Jolie and Ray Winstone (The Departed), whose naked bodies we get to see aplenty. They must have been honored because, wow, they are smokin' hot! And in Jolie's case, not only is she drawn bad, she IS bad (thanks in part to the artwork of Neil Gaiman). Her scene seducing Beowulf is definitely one of the film's more beguiling moments. Hopkins, as the drunken old king, and John Malkovich, as the king's cowardly number two guy, are easy to recognize in their animated forms, while Wright Penn is a little harder to spot as the kind but trapped queen. Another standout is Brendan Gleeson (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire), as Beowulf's loyal lieutenant.
Beowulf is certainly something to behold, from the hair-raising action sequences to the grandeur of the cold Danish countryside to Grendel's mother's lair. And seeing it in IMAX 3-D adds to it even more, although you might need some aspirin afterwards. But for all its hi-tech wonder, motion-capture technology still hasn't perfected the human factor. Unlike regular CGI animation, in which the characters are created from scratch and thus have their own personalities and expressions, trying to emulate humans in this way just doesn't quite cut it. You lose that emotional connection to the characters because they aren't, well, real. Beowulf could be compared to the most recent stylized epic, 300--and the latter would probably win out simply because it incorporates real actors. Of course, this could all be moot in the near future; I'm sure Zemeckis is working on the next step in advancing the technology.
Hollywood.com rated this film 2 1/2 stars.