A quick post about this, mainly because Abigail said the other day that Beowulf “looks like the unholy love child of The Polar Express and 300” and, having seen it, I think this is a trifle unfair. Beowulf is better than The Polar Express because its characters almost never look like creepy soulless automata — the motion-capture definitely has an easier time of it with closeups, older characters and characters in motion than it does with distance shots, young characters, or as Roz Kaveney notes, moments of repose, but there are still long stretches when you forget about the technology and are absorbed into the story.
And Beowulf is better than 300 because, well, just about every film ever made is better than 300, but specifically because it has characters for the motion capture to distract you from, not to mention action sequences that aren’t pure tedium and a healthy sense of its own ridiculousness. With the exception of the truly bizarre cheeseboard of accents (it’s very nearly worth the price of admission to hear Ray Winstone’s cockney hard-man delivery of “I am Beowulf, and I’m here to kill yer monstah!”), the film is not a comedy by any stretch of the imagination. It is a film about manly men doing manly things — this Beowulf is basically the Jack Bauer of the early middle ages — but it’s still a film that knows full well when it’s being OTT and winks at the viewer just enough to make it all fun. When Our Hero is swallowed by a sea monster and then bursts its single, giant eyeball from inside its skull, for instance, the moment is almsot immediately undercut by the people listening to Beowulf relate his tale. ([Sceptic] “How many was it you killed, again? Twenty?” [Beowulf, frostily] “Nine.” [Beowulf's comrade, sotto voce] “Last time it was three.”)
The point is also made more than once that Beowulf is not entirely sane; and there are other, occasional serious moments that lift the whole, such as the confrontation in which a diminished, worn King Beowulf basically dares a captured Frisian invader to kill him. The Frisian wavers, of course, and Beowulf, dismissively, tells his men to “given him a coin and let him go. Now he has a story to tell.” It’s such moments that remind you that this story is actually about things that matter; about power and heroism and reputation and the slow passing of an age. None of which gets in the way of the greatest reason why I’m quite happy having spent time and money watching Beowulf: the stupendously realised dragon in the final act, and the even more stupendously realised action sequence featuring said dragon. I have been waiting a long time to see a convincing dragon on the big screen, and had thought I was going to have to wait until they got around to making The Hobbit, but Beowulf scratched the itch good and proper. What can I say? Sometimes I’m shallow.