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"Beowulf" howls at the IMAX - CinemaDave

Nov. 19th, 2007 09:04 pm "Beowulf" howls at the IMAX

Thirty three years ago, my cousin Ronnie gave me a
book titled, "Monster's Who's Who." Written by
Dulan Barber and published by Crescent Books, I was
struck by the story of Grendel, a monster who killed
twenty men a night. A heroic warrior named Beowulf
ripped Grendel's arm out of his socket and the beast
went home to his mother and died of grief. The mother
sought revenge and kidnapped Beowulf. Waking up in
her lair, Beowulf fought the “monstrous hag” and
killed her. Beowulf then brought Grendel's head back
to the great hall and mounted it as a trophy.

Despite the egghead poetry from the first epic written
1000 years Anno Domini, the narrative of "Beowulf"
had potential big screen interpretation. Besides the
two previously mentioned battles, the finale featured
a soaring battle between Beowulf and a dragon.

Given his literary adaptations of "Forest Gump,"
"Contact," and "The Polar Express," Director
Robert Zemeckis seems like a natural Director to
translate the "Beowulf" epic poem to the big screen
(a really big screen in 3 D if you see it at the IMAX
Museum of Discovery). Mixing mainstream entertainment
with philosophical depth, Zemeckis's visualization
explains why we study this English epic for over 100
years.

This rousing film opens in the Danish stronghold of
King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins), a drunken glutton who
is childless with his Queen Wealthow (Robin Wright
Penn). Beowulf (Ray Winstone) and his army of Geats
arrive and maim the contentious Grendel (Crispin
Glover). Beowulf then challenges Grendel's mother
(Angelina Jolie) alone in her lair.

While he remains true to the narrative facts, Zemeckis
and screen writers Roger Avary and Neil Gaiman provide
historical details and unique character motivations.
Far from being a monstrous hag, Grendel's Mother takes
on a siren quality. With Barbie Doll-like nudity,
Angelina Jolie is at her seductive best. In this
retelling of "Beowulf," one discovers that Grendel's
Mother had been seducing mankind since paradise was
lost. In fact, Grendel's mother is from the family of
Cain, the brother who slew Able in the Old Testament.

The final act features a fantastic battle between the
golden fire breathing dragon and an aged Beowulf. This
final battle is worth the price of an IMAX ticket.
Being a flying dragon, one witnesses an aerial assault
upon Mead Hall. As Beowulf attempts to protect his
damsels in distress, the golden dragon made the
audience jump with his sneaky behavior.

The final act also features an aging Beowulf showing
compassion towards his enemies. Instead of smiting
the poor defeated soldier, Beowulf gives the man some
gold with a new story to tell. At another point in
the storyline, when one follower of Beowulf
embellishes his heroism and glory, a wiser Beowulf
says, "It is too late for lies."

Queen Weathlow wears a crucifix and her staff follows
in her liege. King Hrothgar mentions that their gods
are giving way to the Roman god known as “Christ
Jesus.” As with the final frame of "Forest Gump,"
"Contact" and "Castaway," Robert Zemeckis allows
the audience to draw their own conclusion about the
meaning of "Beowulf."

While this ending may be a letdown for
some, "Beowulf" should satisfy the community of
literature majors with those seeking a good old
fashion action flick.While the film lacks the
narrative discipline of "300,"
"Beowulf" succeeds in capturing the spirit
of an oral legend that has been passed down for 1,100 years.

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