Beowulf


Zemeckis, you magnificent bastard! Yup, the man behind “Back to the Future” and “Forrest Gump” has done it again, directing a third full-on masterpiece in as many decades. Many will be tempted to praise “Beowulf” mostly as an astonishing technical achievement, which it is – “The Polar Express” was already impressive, but this is a whole other ballpark, quite possibly the dawn of a new era in filmed entertainment. The blend of CGI, traditional animation and “performance capture” which Zemeckis and his crew have perfected here, especially as rendered in IMAX 3D, brings a level of hyper-reality unseen on this level before. And it’s not just the action scenes which are breathtaking, the intimate character moments are also amazingly effective.

But forget that: even if “Beowulf” was just a straight live action flick, it would remain great filmmaking and storytelling. Speaking of which, auteur theory be damned, much kudos to screenwriters Roger Avary and Neil Gaiman, who’ve done a brilliant adaptation job on the Old English epic poem, making it feel both timeless and modern. The titular monster-slayer (Ray Winstone) might be Anglo-Saxon literature’s first hero, but to use current movie references, he’s clearly cut from the same cloth as the protagonists of “Conan the Barbarian”, “Braveheart” and “300”. As a whole, though, “Beowulf” is on a entire other level than those films. Only the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy interlinks history, legend and myth in such a fascinating way.

Speaking of LOTR, the connections between it and “Beowulf” are numerous. Amusingly enough, though, while many will feel like Zemeckis is ripping off Peter Jackson, you have to know that it’s actually J.R.R. Tolkien who took inspiration in “Beowulf”, which predates LOTR by many centuries, after all. Still, you can say that Beowulf’s first foe, Grendel (Crispin Glover), a tragic figure of a monster who’s more sad than scary, has a lot of Gollum in him (or vice versa), as well as a bit of Frankenstein’s monster and, look-wise, one of those Body Worlds “plastinated” corpses (look it up). And like the One Ring, it feels like Grendel and especially his mother (Angelina Jolie as the MILF from hell, the sexiest animated character since Jessica Rabbit, also a creation of Zemeckis) represent humanity’s demons, be they gold, power, glory or women, whatever is at the source of war and chaos. On a more direct character level, “Beowulf”, at least as interpreted by Avary and Gaiman, is also a close parent of Oedipus, both tales dealing with complicated, disturbing father-son and mother-son issues.

Heady stuff, but fear not, thrill-seekers, “Beowulf” is also full of wham-bam action and adventure. There are half a dozen absolutely stunning action sequences which put to shame the attempts at similar material of all but a few directors. Now, you might say hey, since when is Zemeckis a great action filmmaker? True, he’s never directed a film as action-oriented as this before, but if you ask me, there are few chases as rousing as those in the “Back to the Future” flicks, and no punch in the history of cinema has ever been as satisfying as George McFly knocking down Biff. Well, imagine how badass those scenes were, add Nordic warriors, monsters and lots of gore and you’ll have an idea of how badass “Beowulf” is. This is one of the best times I’ve ever had at the movies. Thanks again, Bob.