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Information about Beowulf (2007 film)Beowulf is a 2007 (6 years ago) performance capture fantasy movie that is based on the Anglo-Saxon English epic poem of the same name. Directed by Robert Zemeckis, the movie was created through a motion capture process similar to the technique used in The Polar Express. The cast includes Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins, Robin Wright Penn, Brendan Gleeson, John Malkovich, Crispin Glover, Alison Lohman, and Angelina Jolie. It was released in the United Kingdom and United States on Nov. 16, 2007 (6 years ago), and was available to view in IMAX 3D, Real D, Dolby 3D and standard 2D format.
PlotSet in Denmark, the movie opens with King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins) celebrating the construction of his new mead hall, Heorot. The noise echoes into Grendel's (Crispin Glover) cave, tormenting him. In a mad fury, Grendel breaks into the hall and kills many people. After being challenged by Hrothgar, Grendel runs back to his lair, where he is admonished by his unseen mother for attacking the humans and inviting retribution. She asks after Hrothgar. Grendel tells her he did not harm him.
Meanwhile, Hrothgar closes Heorot and proclaims that he will give half of his kingdom in gold to any man who can defeat Grendel. Beowulf (Ray Winstone) and his men arrive by ship from Geatland and convince Hrothgar to reopen Heorot. Beowulf's credibility is challenged by Unferth (John Malkovich), the King's most trusted advisor. Beowulf proceeds to tell the tale of how he slew several sea serpents in a past adventure, convincing them that he is capable of killing Grendel. Hrothgar offers to give Beowulf his own golden drinking horn, should the hero be able to destroy Grendel.
That evening, Queen Wealtheow performs a song for Beowulf, which entices him. As Beowulf's men lock up the mead hall, Beowulf strips naked to "fairly" fight the naked Grendel. His men are to sing loudly, to attract the monster. A predictably enraged Grendel attacks the hall once again and kills several of Beowulf's men. Beowulf engages Grendel in hand to hand battle and defeats the monster, ripping off his left arm. As Grendel retreats, Beowulf boasts of his victory and is proclaimed a hero.
Later Hrothgar and Queen Wealtheow (Robin Wright Penn) argue. Hrothgar states that he needs an heir. Wealtheow refuses to comply because Hrothgar has told her that he had slept with Grendel's mother (thus conceiving Grendel).
After Grendel returns to the cave to die, and his mother flies to Heorot in a vengeful rage and initially appears to Beowulf in a dream, disguised as Wealtheow. When Beowulf wakes, he finds all his men dead except for Wiglaf who had elected to forego the festivities and tend to the ship. Beowulf confronts Hrothgar, whose evasive answers imply that he knows more of Grendel's past than he wishes to discuss, though he tells Beowulf how to find Grendel's mother.
Beowulf and Wiglaf find the cave. Beowulf enters it alone, eventually confronting Grendel's demon mother (Angelina Jolie (146 walls)). She appears to him as a beautiful nude woman, dripping with liquid gold. She promises fame and power if Beowulf gives her a son. She also demands the Horn of Hrothgar with the promise that as long as it is hers, Heorot will be safe: Beowulf's sword melts in her hands and he gives in to her temptations.
Beowulf returns to Heorot with Grendel's severed head and tells a disbelieving Hrothgar that he killed Grendel's mother. Hrothgar, realising Beowulf has succumbed to the same temptation as him, states that his curse has been lifted (implying that it has passed to Beowulf) and then publicly proclaims Beowulf heir to his kingdom ó and its queen. Hrothgar then throws himself from the battlements to his death; Wealtheow looks over the balcony in time to see Grendel's mother steal away Hrothgar's soul. Stunned, Beowulf is duly crowned king and marries Wealtheow.
Many years pass and King Beowulf becomes old and disillusioned, a shadow of his former self, believing his glories to be behind him. One night, Unferth's servant, Cain finds the Horn of Hrothgar on a desolate moor, and Beowulf realizes its meaning: Grendel's mother has reneged on their bargain, and Heorot is again in danger. That evening Beowulf dreams of a golden man (his son by the demon) threatening both the old Queen Wealtheow and Beowulf's young mistress, Ursula. The next night, the man, in the form of a monstrous dragon attacks a village outside Heorot. The dragon gives the horrendously burned and traumatised Unferth a message, which he passes on to Beowulf: 'The sins of the fathers!'
Beowulf, intending to break the cycle of Grendel's mother's demon curse, rides with Wiglaf to her cave to kill the dragon and end the madness. Beowulf also tries to confess his past sins to Wiglaf, but his old friend refuses to listen. Beowulf enters the cave alone and attempts to return the Dragon Horn to her. But the demoness tells him it's too late, and then unleashes the dragon.
The dragon attacks Heorot, overcoming a desperate attempt by Beowulf's army to kill it, and proceeding to the castle to murder Queen Wealtheow and Ursula. Beowulf kills it in a daring maneuver, remembering Hrothgar's advice on dragon-slaying: dangling from a chain round its neck, he rips out the dragon's heart with his bare hand. The dying beast plummets from the sky, dragging Beowulf along, and fatally wounding him.
They fall to the shores far below. The dragon reverts to the golden man of Beowulf's dream, whom Beowulf now recognizes as his son. His dying body is swept away into the tide as Beowulf reaches out for him. Beowulf then dies in Wiglaf's arms. The latter, still refusing to believe his friend is anything but a hero, finally listens to Beowulf's confession.
Beowulf is given a Norse funeral. As Wiglaf, now the new King, watches Beowulf's ship burn out at sea, the demoness appears to him, rising out of the sea and gazing into his eyes. Wiglaf tentatively enters the water, and the pair stare uncertainly at each other.
ProductionAuthor Neil Gaiman and screenwriter Roger Avary wrote a screen adaptation of Beowulf in May 1997 (16 years ago) (they had met while working on a movie adaptation of Gaiman's The Sandman in 1996 (17 years ago), before Warner Bros. canceled it). The script had been optioned by ImageMovers in the same year and set up at DreamWorks with Avary slated to direct and Robert Zemeckis producing. Avary stated he wanted to make a small-scale, gritty film, with a budget of $15-20 million, similar to Jabberwocky or Excalibur. The project eventually went into turnaround after the option expired, the rights returned to Avary, who went on to direct an adaptation of The Rules of Attraction. In Jan. 2005 (8 years ago), producer Steve Bing, at the behest of Zemeckis who was wanting to direct the movie himself, revived the production by convincing Avary that Zemeckis' vision, supported by the strength of digitally enhanced live action, was worth relinquishing the directorial reins. Zemeckis did not like the poem, but enjoyed reading the screenplay. Because of the expanded budget, Zemeckis told the screenwriters to rewrite their script, because "there is nothing that you could write that would cost me more than a million dollars per minute to film. Go wild!" In particular, the entire fight with the dragon was rewritten from a talky confrontation to a battle spanning the cliffs and the sea.
Sony pictures (wallpaper) Imageworks created the animation for the film. Animation supervisor Kenn MacDonald explained that Zemeckis used motion capture because ďEven though it feels like live action, there were a lot of shots where Bob cut loose. Amazing shots. Impossible with live action actors. This method of filmmaking gives him freedom and complete control. He doesnít have to worry about lighting. The actors donít have to hit marks. They donít have to know where the camera is. Itís pure performance." A 25 x 35-foot stage was built, and it used 244 Vicon MX40 cameras. Actors on set wore seventy-eight body markers. The cameras recorded real time footage of the performances, shots which Zemeckis reviewed. The director then used a virtual camera to choose camera angles from the footage which was edited together. Two teams of animators worked on the film, with one group working on replicating the facial performances, the other working on body movement. The animators said they worked very closely on replicating the human characters, but the character of Grendel had to be almost reworked, because he is a monster, not human.
In designing the dragon, production designer Doug Chiang wanted to create something unique in film. The designers looked at bats and flying squirrels for inspiration, and also designed its tail to allow underwater propulsion. As the beast is Beowulf's son with Grendel's mother, elements such as Winstone's eyes and cheekbone structure were incorporated into its look. The three primary monsters in the movie share a golden color scheme, because they are all related. Grendel has patches of gold skin, but because of his torment, he has shed much of his scales as well as exposing his internal workings. He still had to resemble Crispin Glover though: the animators decided to adapt Glover's own parted hairstyle to Grendel, albeit with bald patches.
Robert Zemeckis insisted that the character Beowulf resemble depictions of Jesus Christ, believing that a correlation could be made between Christ's face and a universally accepted appeal. Zemeckis used Alan Ritchson (Aquaman of Smallville fame) for the facial image (wallpaper) and movement for the title character of Beowulf.
ReleaseColumbia pictures (wallpaper) was set to distribute the film, but Steven Bing did not finalize a deal, and arranged with Paramount pictures (wallpaper) for U.S. distribution and Warner Bros. for international distribution. Beowulf was set to premiere at the 2007 (6 years ago) Venice movie Festival, but was not ready in time. The film's world premiere was held in Westwood, California on Nov. 5, 2007 (6 years ago).
At Comic-Con International in Jul. 2006 (7 years ago), Gaiman said Beowulf would be released on Nov. 22, 2007 (6 years ago). The following October, Beowulf was announced to be projected in 3-D in over 1,000 theaters for its release date in Nov. 2007 (6 years ago). The studios planned to use 3-D projection technology that had been used by Monster House, Chicken Little, and 3-D re-release of The Nightmare Before Christmas, but on a larger scale than previous films. Beowulf would additionally be released in 35mm alongside the 3-D projections.
Several cast members, including director Robert Zemeckis gave interviews for the movie podcast Scene Unseen in Aug. 2007 (6 years ago). This is noteworthy especially because it marks the only interview given by Zemeckis for the film.
To promote the film, a four issue comic book adaptation by IDW Publishing was released every week in Oct. 2007 (6 years ago). A video game featuring the vocals of Winstone, Gleeson and Hopkins was released on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC and PSP formats. The soundtrack composed by Alan Silvestri was released on Nov. 20, 2007 (6 years ago). Critics and even some of the actors expressed shock at the British rating (12A) of the film, which allowed children under twelve in Britain to see the movie if accompanied by their parents. Angelina Jolie (146 walls) called it "remarkable it has the rating it has", and said she would not be taking her own children to see it.
Home mediaBeowulf was released for Region 1 on DVD (Digital Versatile Disc) Feb. 26, 2008 (5 years ago). A director's cut was also released as both a single disc DVD (Digital Versatile Disc) and two disc HD DVD (Digital Versatile Disc) alongside the theatrical cut. The theatrical cut includes A Hero's Journey: The Making of Beowulf while the single disc director's cut features four more short features. The HD DVD (Digital Versatile Disc) contains eleven short features and six deleted scenes.. The Director's Cut has been extended/edited in 20 scenes.
The director's cut was released on Blu-ray Disc in the United Kingdom on Mar. 17, 2008 (5 years ago) and in the United States on Jul. 29, 2008 (5 years ago).
Video gamesBeowulf: The Game, a video game based on the movie for PC and consoles. The game was announced by Ubisoft on May 22, 2007 (6 years ago) during its Ubidays event in Paris. It was released on Nov. 13, 2007 (6 years ago) in the United States. The characters are voiced by the original actors who starred in the film.
On Nov. 1, 2007 (6 years ago), Beowulf: The Game was released for mobile phones. The side-scrolling action video game was developed by Gameloft.
ReceptionAs of Jul. 1, 2009 (4 years ago) on the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, Beowulf received a rating of 71%, based upon 183 reviews. Under the category "Cream of the Crop" Beowulf received a rating of 71 percent, with an average reviewer rating of 6.5/10. On Metacritic, the movie had an average score of 59 out of 100, based on 35 reviews, indicating "mixed or average" reviews.
Giving Beowulf three out of four stars, Roger Ebert argues that the movie is a satire of the original poem. Time magazine critic Richard Corliss describes the movie as one with "power and depth" and suggests that the "effects scenes look realer, more integrated into the visual fabric, because they meet the traced-over live-action elements halfway. It all suggests that this kind of a moviemaking is more than a stunt. By imagining the distant past so vividly, Zemeckis and his team prove that character capture has a future." Corliss later named it the 10th best movie of 2007 (6 years ago). Rolling Stone critic Peter Travers argues that ďThe eighth-century Beowulf, goosed into twenty-first century life by a screenplay from sci-fi guru Neil Gaiman and Pulp Fiction's Roger Avary, will have you jumping out of your skin and begging for more...I've never seen a 3-D movie pop with this kind of clarity and oomph. It's outrageously entertaining."
Tom Ambrose of Empire gives the movie four out of five stars. He argues that Beowulf is "the finest example to date of the mo-capabilities of this new technique...Previously, 3D movies were blurry, migraine-inducing affairs. Beowulf is a huge step forward...Although his Cockney accent initially seems incongruous...Winstoneís turn ultimately reveals a burgeoning humanity and poignant humility." Ambrose also argues that ďthe creepy dead eyes thing has been fixed." Justin Chang of Variety argues that the screenwriters "have taken some intriguing liberties with the heroic narrative [... the] result is, at least, a much livelier piece of storytelling than the charmless Polar Express." He also argues that ďZemeckis prioritizes spectacle over human engagement, in his reliance on a medium that allows for enormous range and fluidity in its visual effects yet reduces his characters to 3-D automatons. While the technology has improved since 2004's Polar Express (particularly in the characters' more lifelike eyes), the actors still don't seem entirely there. Beowulf is more vocally than visually commanding."
Kenneth Turan of National Public Radio criticizes the movie arguing: ďIt's been 50 years since Hollywood first started flirting with 3-D movies, and the special glasses required for viewing have gotten a whole lot more substantial. The stories being filmed are just as flimsy. Of course Beowulf does have a more impressive literary pedigree than, say, Bwana Devil. But you'd never know that by looking at the movie. Beowulf's story of a hero who slays monsters has become a fanboy fantasy that panders with demonic energy to the young male demographic." Manohla Dargis of the New York Times compared the poem with the movie stating that, "If you donít remember this evil babe from the poem, itís because sheís almost entirely the invention of the screenwriters Roger Avary and Neil Gaiman and the director Robert Zemeckis, who together have plumped her up in words, deeds and curves. These creative interventions arenít especially surprising given the source material and the nature of big-studio adaptations. Thereís plenty of action in Beowulf, but even its more vigorous bloodletting pales next to its rich language, exotic setting and mythic grandeur." San Francisco Chronicle critic Mick LaSalle suggests: "It's the Beowulf saga once again, and the movie becomes tiresome and trivial - well done within the narrow limits of its aspiration but not worth the inflated effort. To do Beowulf again, there should be some reason to do Beowulf at all. In 2005 (8 years ago), for example, Beowulf & Grendel revisited the tale in order to present Grendel as a nice guy with his own point of view. That was a very bad reason to revisit Beowulf, but at least it was a reason."
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