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Laramie Movie Scope:
Beowulf (2007)

Animated, fascinatingly new interpretation of the ancient Anglo-Saxon poem

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by Patrick Ivers, Film Critic
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(2007) Using motion-capture technology, animation blending actors' performances with computer graphics, director Robert Zemeckis re-creates the beginning of the sixth century in Denmark, adapting the Anglo-Saxon epic poem, re-imagined as a Faustian bargain by screenwriters Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary, as a complex story of "the sins of the fathers." Alan Silvestri composed and conducted the enchanting original score and collaborated with Glen Ballard on the songs.

A wild celebration inaugurates Heorot, the new mead hall of aged King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins): "This shall be a place of merriment, joy, and fornication!" The king gleefully calls forth his principal advisor - "violator of virgins and the best and bravest of brawlers" - Unferth (John Malkovich) to his side; his lovely young queen Wealthow (Robin Wright-Penn) sits beside him.

The great door, burst open, crossing its threshold comes the monstrously malformed mutant, Grendel (Crispin Glover), a tornado of terror, hurling bodies about the hall, slaughtering and slobbering as he gobbles up the Danes. The foul creature and descendent of Cain disdains to take on Hrothgar as he bellows: "Fight me!" "What was that?" asks a shaken Wealthow after the massacre.

After Hrothgar announces a reward of half the gold within his treasury to anyone who can rid his cursed land of the fiendish troll, Unferth proffers a suggestion: "With your permission, shall we also pray to the new Roman god, Jesus Christ? Perhaps he can lift our affliction." The king sternly replies: "No, Unferth, no. No, the gods will do nothing for us that we will not do for ourselves. What we need is a hero."

Accompanied by fourteen brave thanes, "the slayer and destroyer of demons" Beowulf (Ray Winstone) of the Geats crosses the stormy sea. "For gold" - many others have tried and failed in the quest - "for glory." "They say you have a monster here," says Beowulf to the Danish monarch: "They say your lands are cursed." In the distant past, Hrothgar paid Beowulf's father's blood debt, so now the son has come to repay the favor.

But during the entertainment inside Heorot (reopened for the first time since Grendel's last attack), heartily welcoming the Geat champion, a drunken, envious Unferth accuses Beowulf of being "a boastful fool," for he "swam against Brecca and lost." To Unferth's charge, "A mighty warrior who cannot even win a swimming match!," Beowulf first sets the record straight about his five-day competition in the open sea with Brecca - a sudden storm and grappling with sea monsters ("spilling their guts into the sea") interrupting his efforts (though he makes no mention of the mermaid he also encountered) - before retorting to the inebriated, "kinslaying" royal advisor: "If your strength and heart was as strong and fierce as your words, Grendel would not feel free to murder and gorge on your people without fear of retaliation."

After Hrothgar departs for his chambers, Wealthow tells Beowulf of the king's shame for having no sons, though she does not mention anything about the secret behind their lack of connubial relations.

Saying, "We shall fight as equals," Beowulf strips naked, sans sword and armor. Roused from hearing the merriment inside the mead hall, Grendel returns to Heorot. The Geats are not prepared - "too many untended women," complains Wiglaf (Brendan Gleeson) - for the monster's rage, but Beowulf takes the demon (who has no pintel) in hand, wrapping a chain about the creature's arm and ripping it from its socket.

"Our nightmare is over," exults King Hrothgar, but Beowulf wakes from his own horrid dream to a new scene of butchery. Grendel's mother (Angelina Jolie) has visited her wrath upon the Geats for the death of her son. Wondering how many other kin of the creature he might have to face, Beowulf asks the king: "Where is Grendel's father?" Hrothgar replies cryptically: "Grendel's father can do no harm to man."

Accepting Unferth's apologies and ancestral sword Hrunting, Beowulf, taking along the gift of the king's golden drinking horn as well, with Wiglaf goes in search of the hag. But inside her cavern, the hero encounters not a witch but a bewitchingly beautiful (as gorgeous as Grendel was gruesome) undine: "I know that underneath your glamour you're as much a monster as my son, Grendel."

The nymph purrs seductively: "I shall make you the greatest king that ever lived." Both dragons and heroes have a flaw, a point of weakness.

The screenwriters have provided a fresh interpretation and fascinating new ending to the ancient lay of Beowulf. Before the cinematic conclusion, which reflects the original poem's funereal opening, Beowulf says to his loyal companion: "The time of heroes is dead, Wiglaf. The Christ God has killed it, leaving humankind with nothing but weeping martyrs, fear, and shame."

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2011 Patrick Ivers. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Patrick Ivers can be reached via e-mail at nora's email address at juno. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

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