Beowulf: A Unique Animated Narrative

beowulf_ver1_poster.jpgAn interesting piece of information; Beowulf is based on a poem written in the 1100s. The movie is directed by Robert Zemeckis who gave us ‘Polar Express’, ‘Forrest Gump’ and the ‘Back to the future’ series. This time again, he persists with filming on a motion capture stage. The actors are then altered by computer-generated imagery. The astounding and probably the most distracting part of the movie is the resemblance of the actors’ portraying the role. The movie boasts of performers from the likes of Anthony Hopkins, John Malkovich and Angelina Jolie to the very talented Robin Wright Penn (Forrest Gump) and Ray Winstone as the very one dimensional character, the warrior and King Beowulf.

In its first half, the movie keeps to the theme of the original but takes a few cinematic liberties by straying off the original into a story of their own in the second half. It is extremely well crafted and shows a hero with a difference. The usual kinds are supposed to be brave, honest and almost super human. Beowulf is a hero with vulnerability and human weakness. The character is shown to have a weakness for women and a vanity unparalleled. The movie has a brilliant opening sequence where the entire team shows off the technological marvel from the embers of the fire to the faint fading scar lines on the torso of men.

This variation of the Anglo-Saxon epic poem starts with King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins) celebrating the construction of his new hall Heorot, with his men and a very young queen, Wealtheow (Robin Wright Penn), who seems repulsed by the ageing ruler. The merry making and the noise, echoes in Grendel’s cave and tortures his very delicate ears. In a fit of fury and anguish the monster attacks the hall and then follows a very artistically shot sequence of murder and bloodshed. The monster attacks and literally rips off the men who dare to fight him. Unferth, the king’s next-in-command (John Malkovich with very bad Danish accent) dives under water to save his skin. Grendel does not attack Hrothgar and leaves for his cave, leaving destruction and death in his wake.

Grendel’s very alluring mother (Angelina Jolie in all her glory) warns him not to mix with the human race, since they aren’t mute animals and will fight back. During the movie, we now pity Grendel as he is shown to be a creature lost in its own hideousness. Meanwhile, Hrothgar seals his new hall and declares a bounty on the demon. He promises to give half his gold to any one who can kill him. In a reply to his prayers; the Sea brings- Beowulf, Wigglaf and his men. Here is when the vanity of the hero and his weakness for flesh is shown; he recounts an old episode where he fought sea monsters but hides the fact that he succumbed to the charms of a beautiful mermaid. Tempted by the Horn of Hrothgar and a chance to woo the young queen, Beowulf agrees to take on Grendel and slay the monster.

The movie is solely carried by the unique animation technique. It becomes a little slow and difficult to understand but as you get used to the pace and language of the movie it becomes an extremely enjoyable cinematic experience. The very exciting fight sequences pulls the audiences’ attention away from a few glitches like the dullness and blankness of the characters eyes reminding one of the zombies of Resident Evil.

A must watch anyhow for all those who enjoy a unique style of narration. To quote the famous director Roger Avary, “A cheerfully violent and strange take on the Beowulf legend.” This drama stands out from the run of the mill happy endings; it implores you to draw parallels with our own universe. Do we create the demons which we can not control??

Patanjali Pahwa