Beowulf: Director’s Cut (2007)

2008 #19
Robert Zemeckis | 110 mins | DVD | 12

Beowulf Director's CutBack to catching up on last year’s films that I missed, this time with Beowulf in its Director’s Cut form — which, much to my amusement at the time, prominently featured a BBFC 18 icon on its initial cover art but only received a 12 when classified. Clearly the BBFC didn’t feel the “bolder, never-before-seen images” were any more unsuitable for kiddies than the originals. Personally, I’m not so sure. This version of the film is bloody violent (literally); more so than Lord of the Rings, which is the comparison the BBFC make. I’m not a parent and I’m not pro-censorship (far from it), but this feels more like a 15 to me.

Anyway, that’s not the point. What of the film itself? Well, let’s stick with the violence for a moment. It’s bloody and brutal… and completely undermined by the quality of the animation. I like animated films; I have absolutely no problem with animated films for adults; but the issue here is that most of the characters (especially the ‘extras’) seem of about the same quality as humans in Shrek. So while the battle scenes are often very violent, it becomes hard to take them seriously because it’s all too cartoony. Perhaps this is where classifying became problematic. But it’s not just the violence — the animation is awkward throughout. It’s not lifelike enough to be confused with reality, but not ‘animated’ enough to accept on that level. The characters move stiffly, are mostly too smooth (things do improve with aged characters in the final act), and are ‘dead behind the eyes’. The creatures are largely less realistic CGI than you’d see in a live action film. There are even times when things aren’t far above the graphics from a high-end computer game.

It’s not all bad. Anthony Hopkins is entertaining (and sounding more Welsh than ever), and I enjoyed Alan Silvestri’s score. The screenplay plays fast and loose with the original poem, but Gaiman and Avery have justified this and it’s mostly pretty good. While the third act initially slows the film’s pace to a crawl, the tiredness of an older Beowulf and an exciting duel with a dragon make it the best bit, despite the occasional lack of internal logic (why doesn’t the dragon’s fire burn his heart?) It goes someway to making up for the Beowulf-Grendel battle earlier on. In a rare attempt at genuine faithfulness, Beowulf strips naked for the fight so as to be on equal terms with Grendel. Understandably, the filmmakers don’t want his CGI manhood flying around, so he’s always shot with something helpfully blocking his groin. Problem is, the lengths and tricks involved in achieving this are too reminiscent of similar bits in Austin Powers, turning what should be a big heroic action sequence into a comedic exercise (though, it must be said, not an especially amusing one).

I wanted to like Beowulf. All those people on IMDb who whined that it was animated and you couldn’t do an animated action movie for adults annoyed me something rotten, and I really wanted them to be proved wrong. Plus I like many of Zemeckis’ other films, I like the poem, and there’s a lot of potential for a good adaptation. But the weak CGI, sometimes leaden dialogue (I forgot to mention the 300-wannabe “I am Beowulf” and comedically repetitive “I’ve come to kill your monster”), and uncertain level of violence all get in the way. For the majority of its running time, Beowulf left me with a sadly inescapable feeling of disappointment.

2 out of 5

There seem to be a couple of conflicting reports on how different the two cuts are. A comparison lists 90 seconds of new material, but shows the running times to be four-and-a-half minutes different (without credits). On the other hand, the BBFC list the director’s cut as being just 30 seconds longer. However much is completely new, there’s definitely added blood in existing scenes and some shots have been replaced with more graphic versions.

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