Written anonymously around 700 AD, Beowulf is the oldest and greatest epic in the English language. Despite the fact that its storyline encompasses Viking Scandinavia, the roughly 3000-line poem is the solitary major surviving work of Anglo-Saxon heroic poetry. The story, required reading in most high school and college English literature classes, is the foundation for all our modern hero myths, from King Arthur to Conan the Barbarian.
Robert Zemeckis, the creative genius behind such films as the Back to the Future trilogy, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Forrest Gump, Contact, and Cast Away, here uses his charming but flawed The Polar Express as a technical springboard to re-imagine the epic myth of Beowulf for a 21st century audience. The reason filmmakers return to the well of animation time and again is simple: with animation, you are restrained only by your own imagination.
What makes Beowulf the best of both worlds is that it incorporates near photo-realism with animation's visual autonomy. Zemeckis and his team have tackled the hybrid medium in a manner that is surely the vanguard of things to come. To call Beowulf an evolutionary (though flawed) leap forward in cinema may not be too great a compliment.
Like the poem, the film can be divided into roughly three acts. In the first, the monster Grendel (Crispin Glover) is roused from his cave (the outside of which looks like something plucked from the mind of Caspar David Friedrich and the inside of which is vaulted with trusses that look disturbingly like a titanic human ribcage) by the merriment of the drunken lout, King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins) and his reveling Danes. Grendel attacks the mead hall, slaughtering and devouring his victims. Hrothgar sends out a medieval distress ...