Beowulf: Director's Cut
Reviewed by Brandy Shaul
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2008-03-02 DVD Movie M (Mature) Paramount Home Entertainment

I'm sure I wasn't the only one that was shocked to learn many months back that Beowulf was set to receive a 21st century makeover. Beforehand, many of us, myself included, had to look back to high school or college English classes to remember reading the tale. Whether we look back on those times fondly or indifferently, I am happy to say that the epic nature of the story has definitely stood the test of time, and that the transition from poem to film was definitely a success.

For those that weren't fortunate enough (or unfortunate enough, depending on your point of view) to have prior experience with the story, the film follows the heroic warrior Beowulf as he saves a village from the terrible monster Grendel and later has to face his own demons, both figuratively and literally. The film follows largely with the original poem except for one large difference, which would spoil both pieces of art if I expressed it here. Just know that, as in most conversions to film, some creative liberties were taken.

That being said, the film itself does everything else right, and with an all-star cast consisting of Anthony Hopkins, Angelina Jolie, and John Malkovich among others, how could it not? Ray Winstone's Beowulf is a deep and powerful performance on every level, and John Malkovic's Unferth was easily the best portrayal of a secondary character in the film. Every performance was top notch, and really captured the feeling of the original poem.

But I couldn't go too far into describing Beowulf without delving into the style of visuals here. With an incredible mix of live-action and animation, Beowulf is an absolutely beautiful viewing experience. For all of the technological advances this film takes advantage of, you lose none of the detail found in traditional, live-action footage. In fact, the visuals are only enhanced by the special effects along with the added attention to shadows and overall shading. Also, there are certain camera angles towards the violence and overall environments that are simply stunning, and which would be pretty difficult to achieve using standard methods alone.

The Grendel is one shining example of how successful the animation turned out. He looks just as nasty and menacing as the picture I formed in my head upon reading the poem all of the years ago. Speaking of Grendel, a great deal of the violence in the film surrounds him, with most of it fitting right in with the film's unrated status. Beowulf is definitely not for the weak of heart. Sure, the animated graphics help to make the blood and guts a bit more tolerable, but even I cringed in spots. Decapitation, dismemberment and disemboweling are the big three here.

Even after taking into account all of the violence that might make others shy away, the story itself is so striking, complex, and fulfilling that it would be hard to look the other way.

In the end, Beowulf is the culmination of years of technological advances that results in one of the most visually stunning films I've ever seen. Whether you've read the story and simply want to see its transition to film, or whether you've never even heard of the character before, my recommendation stays the same: Beowulf Director's Cut is easily the first must have DVD of 2008.