The year is 507 A.D., and in Denmark King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins) is leading the latest celebrations of his people in their new drinking hall, where their famed mead is flowing and spirits are high. All except for his wife Wealthow (Robin Wright), who is reluctant to join in, though the revellers don't notice, and if they did they would not know why. The reason shows up soon enough, as the party reaches new levels a huge troll known as Grendel (Crispin Glover) appears, smashing in the door and ripping up anyone unfortunate to get in his way - but when faced with Hrothgar, he backs down...
And Hrothgar fails to bump him off too, which might have raised suspicions among the survivors, but the king manages to gloss over that by announcing that a new warrior will arrive and dispose of this menace. However, what will be concerning you is more likely to be, good grief, the animation in this film looks awful, as it was director Robert Zemeckis's follow up to his The Polar Express, which used the same motion capture technique. This essentially meant that the actors would wear skintight suits and their performances would be recorded for computer generated effects to be overlaid, sort of a highly expensive and technologically advanced rotoscoping.
But not so technologically advanced that anyone watching it would mistake it for actual people doing real things, as the whole effect was offputting and fake-seeming, where you would recognise the faces of the stars but be confounded if you tried to lose yourself in their thespian stylings because they simply looked weird. Probably the technique was not sufficiently honed to perfection, as without the suspension of disbelief necessary to view this as anything but the next step up from watching someone play a computer game, there was no getting away from the fact that here was some seriously unattractive imagery presented as the state of the art.
Seeing as how many other blockbusters and lesser budgeted movies managed to conjure up graphics that didn't take you out of the story so jarringly, Beowulf made one wonder why Zemeckis persevered with his motion capture, as if the possibilities blinded him to how aesthetically unpleasant his methods appeared. Taking a script by comics writer Neil Gaiman and at one point director of this project Roger Avary, this was an adaptation of one of Europe's oldest surviving tales, but done a disservice here. Emphasis was on the 3D that this was projected in cinemas with, so there were a lot of things thrown and pointed at the screen in lieu of any actual excitement that a better approach might have provided.
If anything, Beowulf here looked less like Winstone and more like Sean Bean, a bodybuilding Sean Bean at that, and though his Cockney accent made for a novel take on the classic hero, it didn't seem quite appropriate. It was still better than whatever accent John Malkovich thought he was doing for his weasely advisor role, but just another example of how Zemeckis did not have a handle on his material. Grendel looks like a fight in a butcher's shop, his mother is an enhanced, gold-painted and nude Angelina Jolie who has unexplained high heels growing out of her feet, and everyone looks overdesigned yet somehow not really thought through. Add to that a tone that mistakes po-facery for gravitas and this Beowulf was a pretty horrible experience, a shame for all the work that had gone into it, as any grand, archetypal themes the original had were jettisoned for empty action setpieces. There had to be a better way! Music by Alan Silvestri.
But come the Oscar-winning Forrest Gump, he grew more earnest and consequently less entertaining, although just as successful: Contact, What Lies Beneath, Cast Away and the motion capture animated efforts The Polar Express, Beowulf and A Christmas Carol. Flight, The Walk and Allied were also big productions, but failed to have the same cultural impact.
With frequent writing collaborator Bob Gale, Zemeckis also scripted 1941 and Trespass. Horror TV series Tales from the Crypt was produced by him, too.