The ancient English poem is brought to a peculiar kind of life in this bold, computer-generated fantasy from Back To The Future director Robert Zemeckis. Using motion capture technology - and shooting in 3-D - he has created something both remarkable and odd, telling the heroic story of Beowulf (Ray Winstone) as he goes from hero to zero and back again, slaying monsters but becoming something of a monster himself. It's both exciting and flat, sexy and absurd.
Motion capture (or mo-cap) records the real-time performances of actors and reproduces them digitally, in theory making for more realistic, expressive computer-generated characters than traditional animation. It also means performances can blend in visually with surroundings which are too outlandish, dangerous or expensive to be shot in live-action. Actors can be digitally tweaked to appear younger/older, deformed/enhanced, according to the demands of the part. So, it's perfect for a story where the 50 year old Winstone, a man of average height, has to appear as a 6 feet 6 inches twenty-something Viking and battle a mutated demon (Crispin Glover), his shape-shifting mother (Angelina Jolie) and a very large dragon...
"JOLIE IS EMBARRASSINGLY SEDUCTIVE"
Close-up, the effect is startling - particularly with Winstone, whose gruff, tough personality is perfectly matched by his muscle-bound avatar. It's still a little airless and lacking in soul, while the sets and extras lack the vibrancy of pure animations such as Finding Nemo or Monsters, Inc. And for all of the hoopla about advances in 3D, the glasses remain uncomfortable and the in-your-face shots gimmicky. There are moments of terrific action - and Jolie is just embarrassingly seductive, even in pixelated form - but the tone is more Monty Python than The Lord Of The Rings: summed up in one sequence where furniture and ornaments are used to obscure the jangly bits of Winstone's naked warrior. Ground-breaking and technologically exciting it may be, but while Beowulf might be significant in the history of moving pictures, it is not a picture that will move you.
Beowulf is out in the UK on 15th November 2007.