The Flick Chicks

Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

Beowulf

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Jacqueline Monahan

Beowulf

Las Vegas Round The Clock - http://www.lasvegasroundtheclock.com
Jacqueline Monahan is an English tutor for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also a consultant for Columbia College Chicago in Adjunct Faculty Affairs
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The epic poem, written anonymously around the year 1000 A.D. comes to life (sort of) in this visually stunning, 3-D effort by Robert Zemeckis. For me, Zemeckis will always be synonymous with 1987’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Here’s he’s taken all of the solid flesh out of his creation and filled it with CGI forms and faces; special effects that enhance the gore and increase their capacity to spatter blood with detached efficiency.

It seems you can’t have a party in ancient Denmark without giant, slimy, and socially inept Grendel (Crispin Glover) crashing it. And he doesn’t just chew the scenery, but several heads as well. Nothing can kill a Mead buzz faster, and King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins) offers all heroes and warriors half the riches of his kingdom in exchange for Grendel’s death. His wife, Queen Wealthow (Robin Wright Penn) is the long suffering spouse of a philanderer and projects a world-weariness that says, “I’ve seen it all,” even when she’s under the arc of Grendel’s legs, about to be drooled on from his swamp of a mouth. Now that’s jaded.

After his latest gore-gy, Grendel retreats to a secret cave and pond, where his water demon mother awaits, with caressing tentacles and words of encouragement. Oedipal ripples invade the calm pool as Grendel is soothed and comforted by the shape shifting entity.

Mighty Beowulf (Ray Winstone) sweeps in from the turbulent ocean on his magnificent wooden ship, to take up the challenge. The Queen is smitten, Beowulf is smitten, and the King is excited to hand the assignment over to the Viking and his band of fourteen equally brave souls. There must be a naysayer and here it is Unferth, (John Malkovich) advisor to the King and Beowulf detractor, who only serves to goad our intrepid hero into greater resolve.

Grendel fights unarmed and naked, so Beowulf will match him; no armor, no sword. A planned bout of merry-making in the King’s great Mead Hall summons the oozing party crasher with bad manners to appear and the battle begins. Beowulf’s got the moves, even nude, and manages to wound the monster without once revealing his family jewels. Swords, elbows, and strategically placed beams take care of that. Grendel, shrunken to man-size (no genitals, ever, poor wretch; no wonder he’s always pissed), returns to mama, belly-aching and ready to “sleep with the fishes.” Now it’s mother’s turn to exact revenge.

Beowulf and loyal friend Wiglaf (Brendan Gleeson) visit Grendel’s lair to put mom out of her (and their) misery. Wiglaf remains behind, while Beowulf, with the aid of a golden horn – it acts as a flashlight in these pre-Edison times – searches for the water demon. And does he ever find her. Rising from the pool and wearing nothing but the water, and a theatrical coating of gold, just because, is mommy dearest herself. Sans nipples, with an Angelina Jolie head atop a Brigitte Bardot body, complete with organic high-heels growing out of her feet (hey, it’s not her fault they haven’t been invented yet) the seductive demon succeeds in making a pact with the oh-so-human Beowulf. Somehow we know she’ll be privy to the sight of his manhood even though we weren’t.

The rest of the film follows the progression of Beowulf to King, aging warrior, philandering husband, and defender of the kingdom once more, this time with grey hair, a mistress, Ursula (Alison Lohman) and an even more resigned Queen. His new nemesis is a golden dragon, an airborne flame-thrower that has a connection to the King and the water demon, as had Grendel before him. Sensing a pattern? It seems something rotten is always happening in the state of Denmark, starting with its Kings.

Character representation varies greatly throughout the film, from skillful rendering (Anthony Hopkins, Ray Winston, Brendan Gleeson) to merely adequate (Robin Wright Penn). Lip movements are clumsy and keep you mindful of the animated format. No, characters do not necessarily have to look like their non-animated counterparts, but if one face is “nailed” and recognizable, the viewer will naturally look for that recognition in other animated portrayals. When that doesn’t happen in every case, it can seem like an unfinished or hastily constructed version of the character has been assembled.

Writers and Executive Producers Neil Gaiman (Stardust) and Richard Avary (Pulp Fiction) offer seductive dialogue, full of hubris and ensuing regret.

Director Robert Zemeckis captures his fantasy kingdom in a way that will also capture your interest. Placing the viewer into the action instead of having them remain in the spectator seats, his tracking shots are abundant and impressive. Fight scenes are action-packed and cringe-worthy. The 3-D version is spectacular to the point of my covering a single eye every time a spear or sword tip poked out of the screen toward it.

Anthony Hopkins and Ray Winstone are the most believable in their “roles.” Robin Wright Penn possesses a stoic, square-jawed strength that makes her character sympathetic and strong at the same time. Angelina Jolie’s oddly accented voice can coo and seduce, comforting a monstrous progeny and beckoning a virile warrior into sex instead of bloodshed.

There’s no doubt that Beowulf is, first and foremost, a tale of lust. Come for the tale, stay for the tail.