Beowulf
 Beowulf has all the distinguishing features of a great motion picture. It has an epic story filled with conflict and grandiose heroism, not to mention a cast of A-list actors and actresses led by a competent director in Robert Zemeckis.

It is the product of Hollywood's latest computer-generated breakthroughs, coupled with Zemeckis' mad science and obsession for photo-realistic animation.

By using the technique of ‘motion capture,' Zemeckis can take the performances of actors and actresses and obtain their true-to-life facial features and body movements. He can also change their physicality however he wants - making the burly Ray Winstone (The Departed) into the chiseled he-man that is our hero.

Adapted from the Old English Anglo-Saxon poem, Beowulf is an incredibly simplistic story. In case you found yourself smoking in the bathroom instead of attending high school English class, the story focuses on Beowulf (Winstone), a stout warrior who is also a legendary monster hunter.

Beowulf and a small group of warriors arrive in Scandinavia to dispatch a grotesque beast known as Grendel (voiced by Crispin Glover) who is terrorizing Heorot, the most illustrious mead hall of King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins). After some merrymaking and general debauchery, Beowulf and his men escort everyone out of the hall and wait for Grendel to make an appearance.

What happens next is an eye-dazzling action sequence that borders on the bizarre. You see, Beowulf is the kind of guy who wants a fair fight. With this being said, he decides not only to remove his armor and drop his sword - but take off his loin cloth too. That's right, our hero walks around in the buff looking like an oiled-up professional wrestler for the next 15 minutes.

The strangest part of all of this is the outlandish placement of certain objects to hide Beowulf's family jewels. At one point our hero is standing on a wooden table, which conveniently has a sword stuck blade-first in it - an awkwardly amusing visual for a dramatic battle scene.

After grappling with the monster and riding around on his back for a few minutes, Beowulf sets up an impressive pulley system and rips one of Grendel's deformed limbs off. This leads the people of King Hrothgar's lands to believe the monster is dead, but it is quite apparent that Grendel will be seen again.

The monster makes it back to his home, a dank-dark cave filled with deep, crystal blue pools of water. Here we meet the creature's mother, portrayed by Angelina Jolie. So it seems that Grendel's mother is a seductive demon (who would have guessed?) who lures men to her and in turn curses them.

Grendel is the product of one such curse, as we learn that he is the offspring of King Hrothgar himself! Can you imagine being the queen (Robin Wright Penn) in this scenario? I mean, not only did your husband sleep with another woman - but it was a damn demon for Odin's sake!

Grendel tells his mother of the hero Beowulf and then dies in her arms, which incurs the wrath of said seductive demon (who walks around naked). Beowulf is told of by the King of the mother's existence with the demand that Beowulf kill her too - only then can the kingdom truly be free of her curse.

So, with his trusty companion Wiglaf (Brendan Gleeson), Beowulf sets out to defeat yet another monster. Upon entering the cave and meeting the lady of the lake face-to-face, our hero becomes a fallible, vulnerable human. He essentially sells his soul to the demon in return for a night in the sack and the prospect of becoming king.

So the cycle continues - a great man of legend, whose tall tales are often over-exaggerated in mead halls during fits of song, falls victim to beauty. Years pass and soon the stoic warrior becomes a gray-haired king, a miserable mound of regret and despair.

Now he must conquer his last foe, a colossal dragon that aims to destroy the kingdom with great breaths of fire and terrible claws. Here Beowulf must face his inner demons and take destiny into his own hands.

Some people will criticize the film's integrity based on how it is presented, but make no mistake about it - Beowulf is not a children's movie. It is not the squeaky-clean animated feature we are used to - there isn't one talking animal in this film voiced by a celebrity, can you imagine?

With all the nudity, sexually suggestive language and bloody violence in the film, if Beowulf was live-action it might have a hard time achieving even an R rating. It's a valiant new approach to the animation art form - something that Zemeckis hopes will become the future of film.

I, on the other hand, am not so convinced this is the future of cinema. While the photo-realism is deceptively genuine at first, there's still a lot of room for improvement. For the most part, the characters stiff and wooden performances didn't convince me. Often times their eyes floated around in their digitized skulls dead and without emotion.

Then there's the voice acting, which honestly, aside from using the actors' likenesses had no effect on the overall film for me. Ray Winstone's Beowulf came off as a King Leonidas (Gerard Butler from 300) rip-off at times, and the rest of the cast was completely forgettable. Hearing Brendan Gleeson's voice behind his Gimli-esque façade made me think of Mad-Eye Moody from the Harry Potter series instead of this brave warrior Wiglaf.

Then there's that whole weird, nude, Austin Powers-inspired scene where they go to great lengths to hide his private parts. Hey, what about this, just have him in a loin cloth? I think we'd all believe that.

All in all, Beowulf is a beautiful film that lacks on the storytelling side of it. The director put a lot of time and effort (and considerable amounts of money) into this project, but left his heart out of it.

In the end, this film showed us what we as a society have already learned. When confronted by a nude Angelina Jolie, a man - no matter his sense of moral justice and honor - will succumb to her seductive ways. Just ask Brad Pitt.
Reviewed by: adam