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CritiqueQuotesTextTranslations • At the movies

1999, 1999, 2005, 2007, 2007, 2016

Beowulf manuscript from the Nowell CodexEarliest known manuscript
Publication details ▽ Publication details △

First publication
c. 700

Literature form

Literary, epic

Writing language
Old English

Author's country

Approx. 30,000 words

Beowulf scene 2007
That's Crispin Glover in the role as Grendel, created through motion capture animation.

Beowulf as creepy action hero

Beowulf (2007): Director Robert Zemeckis; writer Neil Gaiman, Roger Avary; featuring Anthony Hopkins, Ray Winstone, Robin Wright Penn, John Malkovich, Angelina Jolie, Crispin Glover

After a cinematic century of little or no interest in the Anglo-Saxon classic, we have a rush of film versions: here's the fourth in eight years.

Filmed at California studios, Beowulf (2007) seems particularly unneeded at this juncture, except for being able to offering a more famous cast—with Anthony Hopkins as Hrothgar, John Malkovich as Beowulf's rival in Hrothgar's crew, and Angelina Jolie as the monster's mother (yeah, really).

Winstone as animated Beowulf
Winstone's animated Beowulf.

And they're given scripts by science fiction writer Neil Gaiman and Oscar-winning screenwriter Roger Avary, no less.

But the stars are presented in that kind of supposedly photorealistic animation based on the actors' real facial and body movements against CGI backdrops. The process is fairly far advanced by this point, yet there's still a creepiness factor—perhaps not a bad thing for a story so reeking of dread. The film was actually created for 3D, and reports are that it is more effective when viewed in that mode.

Beowulf himself is portrayed by veteran British actor Ray Winstone, who at age 50, benefits greatly from animation to turn him into the muscular and gymnastic hero who takes on the monster.

He's actually quite a good, brooding hero who, after his initial victory, moves over to the dark side.

Instead of killing the monster's mom next, Beowulf makes a deal with the devil. He allows himself to be seduced by her (as, it turns out, Hrothgar had been seduced earlier, which had produced the monster in the first place) in return for being made king.

Trailer for the photorealistic animation Beowulf of 2007.

Eventually, as King Beowulf ages, he has to face the consequences of his betrayal. Much action ensues as the latest creation of the Jolie monster, a flying dragon, attacks the kingdom and threatens Beowulf's (human) loved ones. It's all very cartoonish for the big action climax, with the usual incredible, mid-air, physics-defying feats being performed.

Great for the action crowd, not so for the literary set.

— Eric


CritiqueQuotesTextTranslations • At the movies

1999, 1999, 2005, 2007, 2007, 2016