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Sunday, 9 December 2007

Beowulf


Computer-generated imagery has come a long way very quickly, but it still can't quite get the human face right. So in a strange way Beowulf's script (by fantasy author Neil Gaiman and one-time Tarantino collaborator Roger Avery) is too good for the current technology: sometimes subtle in mood and often relying on facial expressions to get across things the characters left unsaid (in short, acting), more than once it outstrips the ability of CGI animators to bring their human characters to life. But that said, the only way film progresses as a medium in through films like this, where the reach of all involved exceeds - sometimes - their grasp. Based on the Dark Ages epic poem, Beowulf is the story of, er, Beowulf (the voice of Ray Winstone), who arrives in a land under siege from the monster Grendel and promises the king (Anthony Hopkins) to rid the land of this blight. But while brute force and a bit of naked wrestling might be enough to tackle Grendel, his demon mother (Angelina Jolie) is another matter entirely. Unusually for this genre, which usually just powers blindly on to an all-action climax, this film's third act could almost be a separate film, as the much older and world-weary Beowulf is forced to face the mistakes of his past and try to put things right once and for all. Fortunately for action fans, this involves fighting a dragon, and it's the combination of narrative force and physical action that sets this above the average fantasy film. The animation works best when there's monsters around, but even in the human-only sequences (and there are plenty of them, with the of Beowulf, the King, and the King's wife - voiced by Robin Wright Penn - becoming quite the twisted love triangle) it's only the occasional stiff or stilted moment in the performances that jars. If Beowulf is the future of film, it's mostly because it's sticks close to that oldest of values: solid storytelling.


Anthony Morris

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