To solicit from a medievalist a review of Robert Zemeckis’s Beowulf is to pick a quarrel unlikely to be evaded. The eminent Cambridge classicist Richard Bentley famously put down Alexander Pope’s translation of Greek epic with a single sentence: “It is a pretty poem, Mr. Pope, but you must not call it Homer.” “Pretty” is not the first adjective I would choose to describe Zemeckis’s Beowulf. Fantastic, amazing, preposterous, corny from springing leaf to ripening ear, technically brilliant perhaps, enjoyable after a fashion–but “pretty,” no. This Beowulf is all about the animated monsters. Grendel appears to be a very large version of Freddy Krueger made of Kevlar papier-maché. (His submerged “identity” as Crispin Glover is too faint to deserve mention.) He roars, rips, eats people head-first, then drools in probably symbolic fashion over the supine body of Robin Wright Penn. I mean, like, gross. The huge final flying dragon, wing-flapper, maiden-threatener, buttress-buster, more flame-thrower than fire-breather, is one mean worm. Years from now the film may well claim at least an honorable mention in cinematic history for its increment in the effects of animation through “motion capture.” So far as more ordinary history goes, it has a lot to answer for.
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