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Stars: Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins, Angelina Jolie, Robin Wright Penn, John Malkovich, Brendan Gleeson, Alison Lohman
Director: Robert Zemeckis
A lowbrow but spectacular pantomime for tough kids (not recommended for junior schoolers), shot in 3D and using a refinement of the 'performance capture' technique seen earlier in the same director's The Polar Express.
In early sixth-century Denmark, merry monarch Anthony Hopkins (embarrassingly baring all) is plagued both by lack of a son and heir and by a marauding monstrosity called Grandel who makes mincemeat of dozens of the king's militia on a casual visit - the noise of merrymaking having hurt his malformed ear.
Enter the mighty Beowulf with his ship of Viking warriors, prow towards the camera - the 3D effects are a treat, if also something of a distraction. He's 'played' by Ray Winstone, which is bizarre casting, since the chubby 50-year-old has another's body grafted on and his face computer-narrowed to match. But when he opens his mnoth and bellows 'I'm Beowulf. An' I'm here to kill your monster' in a ripe cockney roar, you know it is Winstone. So why cast such an unsuitable actor? Why not someone like Sean Bean, who at least looks the part?
At any rate, Beowulf takes on Grendel mano a mano, shedding all his clothes - the 3D camera turns risible somersaults to conceal his manhood - and destroys the beast. He then has to reckon with Grendel's mother - Angelina Jolie in gold paint, high heels(!) and a long scaly (pony-)tail - who seduces him and gets him to impregnate her before he returns to declare her dead.
A joyous Hopkins - perhaps Grendel's real father - declares Beowulf will be king when he dies (getting up the nose of court vizier John Malkovich), and promptly throws himself off a castle turret, proving at least that he has more money than sense.
And so to the day of reckoning when Beowulf's sins return to haunt him many years later. Much of the dialogue's a hoot, but the action knocks spots off those old Ray Harryhausen Sinbad films, especially with a magnificent dragon who emerges to menace the two main maidens (Robin Wright Penn, Alison Lohman) at the end. And the wintry landscapes are stunningly well assembled within the film's giant frame - notably if you see the IMAX version, which fuses live action, digital animation and 3D projection. And, even if Winstone wouldn't even be your 50th choice as Beowulf, the 'performance capture' process almost makes it work.
USA 2007. UK Distributor: Warner Brothers. Colour.
114 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.
Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 2, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.
Review date: 13 Nov 2007