Monday, 17 March 2008

On DVD: Beowulf - Review by Robert Duffin

Director: Robert Zemeckis
Screenwriters: Roger Avary & Neil Gaiman
Running Time: 112 mins
Certificate: 12
DVD Distributor: Warner Brothers Home Entertainment

When you get your DVD copy of last autumn’s blockbuster Beowulf, you’ll be sad to discover there are no 3D specs included. Unlike the Robert Rodriguez’s messy Spy Kids 3D: Game Over, we’re not afforded the opportunity of reliving the experience in our living rooms, which begs the question: what’s the point? If you can’t cower in fear from the monster Grendel as he attacks the Danish kingdom of King Horthgar (Anthony Hopkins), before Beowulf (Ray Winston) arrives to save the day, then why bother? Well, English Lit students who don’t have the patience to read a poem could do worse.

The main problem with the film is that director Robert Zemeckis’ beloved technology creates extraordinarily pixelated Madame Tussauds wax works that are unable to express the nuanced performances. Dead eyes and limp limbs leave the experience feeling a little flat. It's hard to identify with Beowulf when he's swinging around buck naked, defying gravity and protecting his modesty Austin Powers style when it looks so fake (the swinging that is, clearly they don't have a programme to create a convincing CGI penis, but of course they can do breasts).

It’s debateable whether Beowulf is even a film. Sure it has a narrative, but then so do the Shrek and Spider-Man rides at Universal Studios. There’s definitely a script but it’s populated with one-dimensional ciphers despite the involvement of two very talented scribes - Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary. The problem is it's barely a narrative, more like a video game; it’s only there to get us between the big fights. It also has the aesthetic of a video game, offering nothing you couldn't get on your games console these days.

Regardless, Beowulf has its moments of entertaining spectacle, and is perhaps the next generation of Blockbuster in the making. The kinetic aerial battle with a dragon towards the end is truly spectacular, but was made so by the 3D technology, which brings us back to the problem of seeing it on DVD. To have been there at the baby steps of something a little different was strangely intriguing, but without the spears flying into your face, Beowulf is startlingly, even more gruelling to endure.

DVD Special Features:

The Theatrical Cut single-disc release is barebones. The Director’s Cut two-disc release offers the following extras:
Reading Between the Lines: The Making of Beowulf
The Origins of Beowulf
Beowulf’s Beast of Burden
Art of Beowulf
Deleted Scenes

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