grendel and friends


Robert Zemeckis uses performance capture – where movements in three dimensions are captured through digital sensors on a body-suit worn by the actor and reworked on computer; a technique familiar from Gollum in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. The effect is more natural than CGI – though the characters’ eyes remain rather glassy – and it retains the likeness of the actor, while permitting considerable enhancement or uglification. Ray Winstone (Beowulf) loses twenty-five years in the first half of the film, and gains a superbly sculpted body. Sir Anthony Hopkins as Hrothgar becomes a paunchy, debauched Welsh sot, and Angelina Jolie, a surprise casting for Grendel’s Mother, is a slinky seductress whose other-worldly curves exploit the lust for sex and power in generations of local kings. The writers have taken considerable liberties with both plot and characterization: Hrothgar presides over a Heorot reminiscent of a rugby club in the heart of the Valleys (it takes about a minute and a half for the first ripe belch of the film to be heard); Wiglaf is Beowulf’s faithful right-hand man throughout, rather than his youthful companion in the final battle, and is consequently rather grizzled when his turn for kingship comes. Nevertheless, there is much to enjoy in the noisy, action-packed spectacular effects of the fights. Grendel in particular, half-foetus, half-corpse with the flayed skin of a Gunther von Hagen figure, is both grotesquely terrifying and pitiable; the fear evoked in the poem when the monster realizes that he has met his match, and his miserable death in the mere are brilliantly realized. The dragon, too, has a splendid golden hide, as if crusted with lumps of ore, while the Scandinavian skaldic term for gold as “fire in the water” underlies the aesthetic of the haunted mere where Grendel and his mother live.

more from the TLS here.