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Beowulf, Unrated Director's Cut [2007 film] (2007)

af Robert Zemeckis (Director), Roger Avary (Writer), Roger Avary (Screenwriter), Roger Avary (Writer), Neil Gaiman (Writer)3 mere, Neil Gaiman (Writer), Neil Gaiman (Screenwriter), Ray WINSTONE (Actor)

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1814113,258 (3.94)Ingen
In the age of heroes comes the mightiest warrior of them all, Beowulf. After destroying the overpowering demon Grendel, he incurs the undying wrath of the beast's ruthlessly seductive mother, who will use any means possible to ensure revenge. The ensuing epic battle resonate throughout the ages.

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Þæt wæs god cyning!

(This review was written for a house magazine whose audience might not otherwise have been familiar with the text, after seeing the original theatrical release.)

The latest CGI epic from Hollywood director Robert Zemeckis is an interesting excursion into the realms of Dark Age history. At the same time, it has things in common with Mel Gibson's 'The Passion of the Christ' and 'Apocalypto'. Beowulf takes us back to the beginnings of English literature and into the heroic world of Norse heroes, dragons and monsters. But this is no fantasy world like Narnia or Middle Earth. Gritty reality is the order of the day here.

Beowulf is drawn from the earliest and most extensive surviving example of prose writing, not only in English, but from anywhere in Western Europe. It is generally thought to date from the 8th Century, although the written version we have dates from about 1000 CE. The story, repeated down the years by successive generations of bards, tells the story of the hero Beowulf, who travels from modern-day Norway to the court of King Hrothgar in Denmark to rid him of a monster, Grendel, who has been terrorising his mead-hall and slaying his warriors. He kills Grendel but then has to face Grendel's mother; he defeats her and becomes a warrior famed in song and story. After ruling in his own land for 50 years as a wise and powerful king, he faces a final struggle against a monstrous dragon and dies a hero's death.

As originally known, Beowulf is written in Old English, a tongue nowadays generally incomprehensible. (The title for this review is just an example – pronounced "Thet waas god cunn-ing".) The language is itself a mix of Scandinavian and northern German dialects; we can decipher it through religious texts and chants which have survived, as well as extrapolating backwards the changes in spoken English from the Middle English of Chaucer's time. The bardic tradition of story-tellers recounting the tales of heroes in the great halls of kings would have had access to many such tales. In Old Norse we have the Sagas; in Welsh we have the tales of the Mabinogion; but Beowulf pre-dates all the surviving versions of these. We have no other surviving long texts from this period.

Zemeckis' film tells the key events of the story. It also changes some parts, at times quite extensively. The British comics writer, Neil Gaiman, scripted the film and inserted sections dealing with Grendel's parentage, the death of King Hrothgar and the conflict between the new Christian religion and the older Norse beliefs which were not in the original that has come down to us. But this is all right: the bards themselves would have made such changes to the story as they saw fit as they re-told it; and we mustn't forget that the version of Beowulf that has come down to us is only the one out of countless re-tellings that survived.

The film has been made using the latest digital motion capture techniques and computer animation. Live actors spoke the lines and provided much of the movement acting in front of green screens; backgrounds, monsters and the whole environment were then inserted afterwards. This makes it possible to create settings that would otherwise be difficult or even impossible in live action; Angelina Jolie, for example, plays Grendel's mother and morphs from horrible monster to seductive siren (another of Gaiman's changes and a quite convincing borrowing from other mythologies). On the other hand, Beowulf himself is played by Ray Winstone, but is portrayed as a fine figure of a man with a physique that I doubt the actor has any longer! The acting is adequate; one wonders quite how the actors feel seeing versions of themselves on screen speaking the words they said but not quite matching the way they stand, move or act. The motion capture system tends to iron out the extremes of emotional delivery. But then again, characterisation and high emotion was not heavily present in the original; the Saxons and Vikings sitting in their lord's mead-hall wanted to hear tales of adventure and heroism, and weren't so worried about how people felt. The film certainly delivers on that score.

The animation is very good; just at the beginning, the movements of some of the characters in the scenes of carousing in Hrothgar's mead-hall look a little bit like Shrek, but you soon get used to that and once Grendel has made his first attack, you are completely immersed in the world of the film and the CGI ceases to be an issue. Water – always very difficult to render properly – is exceptionally convincing.

The settings are marvellous, depicting a landscape of hard winter, but they bear no resemblance to any Denmark we would recognise. Hrothgar's hall and castle, again, are very convincing but bear no resemblance to the buildings that we know were put up at the time. Dark Age construction was mainly in timber; but the film shows great buildings of crude stone. But this is a re-telling of a myth, and in myth these things are but secondary.

The picture of the society is convincing; life was nasty, brutish and short. Although the film has been mentioned by some critics for its goriness, in truth it only attracts (in the UK) a 12A certificate, in that a lot of the violence is more suggested than overt. More noticeable is the earthiness of much of the conversation and actions which more justifies the certificate; but this, too, was typical of the times. Indeed, I suspect that many viewers may find it easy to identify with the characters on screen for their motivations and appetites.

One thing that the film does that the original text doesn't is depict religious tension. The text of Beowulf, as I said, dates from 1000 CE and exists in a version recorded by monks. There are Christian references throughout; but as an older text that was really part of an oral tradition, it quickly becomes clear on reading that references to "the Lord God" were most likely changed by the person who wrote it down from "Odin" or others of the pantheon of Norse gods. I suppose that as we are now used to the concept of "search and replace", we can spot instances of it done the hard way by earlier hands more easily than before!

The film, however, makes the point that Christianity was a new religion. The screenwriter, Neil Gaiman, makes one of the lesser characters in Hrothgar's court, the thane Unferth, into a minister of the Church. His challenge to the legend of Beowulf as hero when Beowulf boasts about his swimming contest with Breca, which is in the original text, becomes a challenge based on the Christian concept of the sin of pride. In turn, Hrothgar and Beowulf feel that Christianity, with its message of peace, has weakened society to the point that men cannot stand against Grendel and true heroes are in short supply. Certainly, at this time both religions co-existed in the popular mind even if the practice of sacrifice to the old Norse gods was no longer officially sanctioned. Gaiman emphasises this by having the dragon burn down the church later in the film. In time, of course, the Christian church adopted many of the sites and festivals of the old religion, so much so that the pagan underpinnings of our society are today heavily submerged.

Perhaps the one part of the film that people might have a problem with is its 3-D effects (in selected theatres, as they say). The 3-D process itself is excellent; as I have a dominant eye, old-fashioned 3-D that relied on feeding red and green images to separate eyes didn't work for me. The new digital systems using two superimposed polarised images, combined by the special glasses for each eye (pioneered by the IMAX cinemas) is much better and gives a much more realistic effect. The drawback is that the film-makers have decided to use the same sort of visual gimmicks that they did in the 3-D 'B' moves of the 1950s ('The Creature from the Black Lagoon' is perhaps the best-known example). So spears loom towards the viewer from out of the screen; various objects are thrown directly towards the camera; galloping horses or soaring dragons are followed by the camera, skimming along the ground or swooping through the treetops. And some shots are framed in ways that exploit the 3-D process by having some objects close to the camera and others further away. After a while, you no longer notice the less obvious effects, but the obvious ones are very obvious. Anyone watching the film on a conventional flat screen (be it cinema or home television) will wonder why there are all these perspective tricks; and in time, they will merely look strange.

But where the 3-D works is in giving some scenes additional presence and vibrancy. Beowulf's arrival by longboat through a stormy sea, for example, has all the more immediacy because of the 3-D with the ship's dragon prow ploughing through towering waves towards the audience.

To sum up; this is not just any film. It is an important North European myth retold. It is good to see such a story presented in a popular format. As the oldest story known in the English language, it is a key part of the history of the English and as such is essential viewing to understand who we are and some of why we are the way we are.
  RobertDay | Oct 27, 2013 |
Flere brugere har rapporteret denne anmeldelse som misbrug af betingelserne for brug. Det er derfor fjernet (vis).
  WilliamHartPhD | May 29, 2012 |
Flere brugere har rapporteret denne anmeldelse som misbrug af betingelserne for brug. Det er derfor fjernet (vis).
  WilliamHartPhD | May 29, 2012 |
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Forfatter navnRolleHvilken slags forfatterVærk?Status
Zemeckis, RobertDirectorprimær forfatteralle udgaverbekræftet
Avary, RogerWriterhovedforfatteralle udgaverbekræftet
Avary, RogerScreenwriterhovedforfatteralle udgaverbekræftet
Avary, RogerWriterhovedforfatteralle udgaverbekræftet
Gaiman, NeilWriterhovedforfatteralle udgaverbekræftet
Gaiman, NeilWriterhovedforfatteralle udgaverbekræftet
Gaiman, NeilScreenwriterhovedforfatteralle udgaverbekræftet
WINSTONE, RayActorhovedforfatteralle udgaverbekræftet
Coppola, Chrismedforfatteralle udgaverbekræftet
Gleeson, Brendanmedforfatteralle udgaverbekræftet
Gleeson, BrendanActormedforfatteralle udgaverbekræftet
Gleeson, BrendanActormedforfatteralle udgaverbekræftet
Glover, CrispinActormedforfatteralle udgaverbekræftet
Glover, Crispinmedforfatteralle udgaverbekræftet
Glover, CrispinActormedforfatteralle udgaverbekræftet
Hopkins, AnthonyActormedforfatteralle udgaverbekræftet
Hopkins, Anthonymedforfatteralle udgaverbekræftet
Hopkins, AnthonyActormedforfatteralle udgaverbekræftet
Jolie, AngelinaActormedforfatteralle udgaverbekræftet
Jolie, Angelinamedforfatteralle udgaverbekræftet
Jolie, AngelinaActormedforfatteralle udgaverbekræftet
Malkovich, JohnActormedforfatteralle udgaverbekræftet
Malkovich, Johnmedforfatteralle udgaverbekræftet
Malkovich, JohnActormedforfatteralle udgaverbekræftet
Winstone, Raymedforfatteralle udgaverbekræftet
Winstone, Raymedforfatteralle udgaverbekræftet
Winstone, RayActormedforfatteralle udgaverbekræftet

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Film version. DO NOT combine with the book.
ISBN 1415739412 is for the Unrated Director's Cut version.
The Director's cut includes footage not seen in the theatrical version.
ISBN 1415739412 is for the Unrated Director's Cut version.
ISBN 1415739412 is for the Unrated Director's Cut version.
Includes footage and scenes not included in the theatre release. Do not combine with the theatre release or the rated Director's cut version since the content is not the same.
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In the age of heroes comes the mightiest warrior of them all, Beowulf. After destroying the overpowering demon Grendel, he incurs the undying wrath of the beast's ruthlessly seductive mother, who will use any means possible to ensure revenge. The ensuing epic battle resonate throughout the ages.

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