March 11, 2008
The story, with a few refreshing twists, is the classic epic tale: the king (Anthony Hopkins) offers gold and glory to any warrior who vanquishes the beast. That he-man hero, of course, would be Beowulf (Ray Winstone).
Beowulf, the 3D IMAX animated movie, is certainly not the book we were obliged to read in English Lit: a narrative poem written in Medieval English about the mythic Scandinavian. Director Robert Zemeckis (of Forrest Gump and Polar Express fame) translated the ancient Geats-speak to the latest geek computereze. One of the most ambitious computer generated movies to date, he shot live actors and then crafted the three dimensional animated film.
Cinematizing a legend of battles, beauties and super bad-asses is perfect fabric for modern effects story tellers and the boys who love to spin them.
Especially the protagonists. What guy - and they are mostly guys - squirreled away in a dark cubicle wouldn't want to get their digits and gigabytes into those monsters: a dragon, an eel, Grendel (Crispin Glover) and especially Grendel's mother (Angelina Jolie) - all Beowulf's nemeses.
Grendel is one of the most grotesque characters to ever appear on screen, with his oozing body fluids marking territory like a feral cat. You can just fathom that Zemeckis wanted a masterpiece of monsters: a creature that deletes all former monsters from your memory and one that engraves its image permanently over the faces of all hellhounds not yet imagined. (While I'm not an expert on cinematic fiends, freaks, abominations and movie monstrosities, Grendel is surely a top contender for celluloid posterity.) Wistfully, the DVD does not deliver the 3D drool as experienced in the IMAX theater near you.
(To be clear, though the movie was shown in IMAX and some digital theaters in 3D [the put-on-the-3D-glasses, spears-flying-at-you type], this HD DVD is presented in the traditional non-3D way. Perhaps as compensation, the Director's Cut does serve up an extra helping of blood, guts, and skin, which may make it unsuitable for youngsters or the weak-stomached.)
Grendel's's mom, however, may be yet more memorable than her offspring. Nude Angelina Jolie's pixilated perfection, with spiked heel bones and the Devil's tail, is veiled only in the clinging golden waters from which she stages her grand entrances, wet t-shirt style. Even Miss Jolie herself was said to have been impressed by her own CG transmutation.
A few numbers certify the accomplishment of the creative crew. Actors dressed in wired "wetsuits" were shot in a space, dubbed "The Volume," 25 feet by 25 feet by 16 feet tall. About 225 motion capture cameras recorded actors covered from head to toe, each dotted with about 250 sensors. You get the picture. If not, we heartily recommend viewing the Special Features.
You see the expected interviews with actors, crew and the boss Zemeckis, but this double DVD delves into the bowels of the gory details. The shot-by-shot behind-the-scenes picture-in-picture reveals comparable images of either in-progress animations or live-action actors performing for motion capture cameras. Robin Wright (the Queen) and the cuddly big bear Winstone (Beowulf) perform in their body suits. The live antics and acting of so many polka dotted people is theater in itself.
For the informed movie addict, you know the plumpish, 5 foot 10, balding, 57 year old Winstone is not the blond buff Brad-like Beowulf seduced by Angelina. It took Zemeckis' team of electronic wizards to revamp the actor into a computer generated hunk.
Winstone's bare bod stand-in, in all its athletic and agile nudity, is noticeably absent from the Extras. And if you are hoping to catch a glimpse of a naked you-know-who, forget it. Jolie is never seen in the How-to's - with or without clothes. Still, the Special Features are worth it. The film-making process is easily as fascinating as the movie. It's enlightening, engaging, entertaining and funny. Since Hollywood rarely relies on a plot, it's everything you want in a good movie. You're gonna love Ray Winstone.
If you are versed in motion capture techniques, you know that solid objects block the cameras from filming the sensors. To see Zemeckis' resolution, you need to visit the Wire Frame Prop Shop. There, artisans welded veritable wire frame objects, later converted to virtual wireframe props.
Wait. There's more. There's a conversation with Grendel's Crispin Glover. And CG artists talk about the transmutation of the man into demon kind - the application of Glover's anguished expressions to a creature resembling a demi-dissected cloisonné corpse. Ghoulish and gorgeous at the same time. Let them tell you how.
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Cast: Ray Winstone, Angelina Jolie, Anthony Hopkins, Robin Wright Penn, Alison Lohman, Brendan Gleeson, John Malkovich, Crispin Glover
Length: 114 minutes
Video codec: VC-1
Video resolution: 1080p
Aspect ratio: 2:35:1
Dolby True HD 5.1
Dolby Digital Plus 5.1
French & Spanish:
Dolby Digital Plus 5.1
English SDH, French, Spanish