I’m a huge fan of the original epic poem Beowulf and all its different translations (and trust me there have been several and the translators have all put their own stamp on the material), so I was delighted to hear that one of my favorite filmmakers Robert Zemeckis had decided to tackle the material for a modern spin on an age old legend. You have to get just a little excited when you hear that the man behind Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and the Back to the Future trilogy and the recent The Polar Express decides that his next project is going to be Beowulf (when the live action version Beowulf amp; Grendal had just been released a few years earlier).
Zemeckis just didn’t stop there.
He also brought along famed author Neil Gaiman who redefined Batman, Daredevil, and Sandman, among others, in the comic book medium and who in fact was making a niche of his own in novels with Stardust, Coroline, and Fragile Things, among others (the previous two made into films of their own). Zemeckis plucked Gaiman along just after the success of his previous screenplay for Mirror Mask and the two have crafted a unique perspective on the legend and myth that is Beowulf.
Although Gaiman (with screenwriter Roger Avary) took many liberties with the source material, Beowulf is now a complete and cohesive myth of a true warrior who is seduced by the dark side in exchange for fame that eventually leads to his downfall. In this film Beowulf becomes a hero when he and his band of warriors save Hrothgar’s village from Grendal, a hideously deformed offspring from the local water demon. When Grendal’s mother seeks revenge for the death of her son, Beowulf finds himself seduced by the water demon in exchange for his own kingdom and untold fame in which his exploits will become the thing of legends.
Making a deal with the devil, Beowulf soon realizes his folly but it is too late to go back. Years later once he has everything that the demon promised him, he finds himself a hollow remembrance of what he once was but the sudden appearance of a dragon provides the catalyst from which Beowulf might finally redeem himself before he dies.
Zemeckis’ vision of the film is epic in scope from the battle sequences to the violence to the sheer brutality of war and the times in which the characters live. This is made even more evident from the Digital 3-D technology used in the film from start to finish (something only glimpsed at in the latest Harry Potter film in which the final twenty minutes were screened in 3-D on Imax screens). Zemeckis has gone a step closer to reaching perfection in terms of his motion capture animation style, which he used in The Polar Express. Although this film could’ve been done in live action, the animated style lends itself to a more mythic pathos that can be enjoyed for years to come (as is with the tradition of most of Walt Disney’s original animated classics).
One of the other bold choices on Zemeckis’ part is that this film is PG-13 and not for the young children as there are many adult themes and images and violent images throughout. The film is not playing down to children but is made to be enjoyed by older audiences as well that can appreciate the scope to which this film is trying to play. This is an asset to the film that I believe should allow the film to cross over to all audiences.