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Ray Winstone
Angelina Jolie
Brendan Gleeson
Anthony Hopkins
Robin Wright Penn
John Malkovich.
Robert Zemeckis.
Roger Avary
Neil Gaiman.
Running Time
114 minutes

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Move over, Leonidas - there's a new hard man in town

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6th Century Denmark, and the domain of King Hrothgar (Hopkins) is under attack from a hideous demon named Grendel (Crispin Glover). The heroic Beowulf (Winstone), a Geat warrior, arrives and vows to defeat Grendel. But if he manages that, there’s Grendel’s angry and seductive mother (Jolie) to contend with…

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When Robert Zemeckis announced, a few years back, that he was going to stop directing live-action and instead dedicate himself to performance/motion capture technology (where actors work on a bare soundstage, and are digitally painted over; it’s essentially rotoscoping’s flashy cousin), it was hard not to think that one of Hollywood’s finest was wasting his time and talent, fiddling with toys when he should be making ‘proper’ movies. It didn’t help that his first stab, 2004’s The Polar Express, was a saccharine affair, peopled by dead-eyed zombie-esque characters - even though it was sometimes visually ingenious. But with Beowulf, an astonishing, sumptuous 3D epic, it’s clear that Zemeckis, the great innovator, knew what he was doing all along. Bob, if you’re reading, we’re sorry we doubted you.

Beowulf is, simply, the finest example to date of the mo-capabilities of this new technique. A 2D version is on release, but we strongly suggest that you watch this wearing a pair of silly glasses. Previously, 3D movies were blurry, migraine-inducing affairs. Beowulf is a huge step forward, with a depth and clarity of vision that is deeply immersive, while Zemeckis largely resists the urge for gratuitous look-at-me compositions (only once, when a character flings coins at the camera, are we taken back to the gimmicky bad old days of Jaws 3D days) in favour of subtle choreography of action scenes that instantly embed you in the action.

The story of Beowulf - the oldest tale in the English language - inspired The Lord of the Rings, yet Zemeckis has fashioned a fantasy flick a world away from that scale. That’s not to say that there aren’t fantastic and hugely ambitious action scenes, the third act showdown between Beowulf and a vengeful dragon is the stuff of instant classics, starting with a truly clever reveal and then swooping, vertiginously, over treetops, through volleys of arrows, and into tumultuous surf. But, on the whole, Beowulf is a curiously intimate epic, largely confined to three locations, and focusing firmly on its title character.

Only mocap could turn the portly, 50-something Ray Winstone into a buff demigod and - in the third act, which takes place years later, and which is composed of muted colours and a near-tangible sense of loss, guilt and regret - a buff demigod with wrinkles and white hair. Zemeckis didn’t cast Winstone for his six-pack; he cast him for his gruff vulnerability. Although his Cockney accent initially seems incongruous as he bellows lines like ‘I will kill your mon-STAH!’ as if he were still hefting a sock filled with snooker balls, Winstone’s turn ultimately reveals a burgeoning humanity and poignant humility as Beowulf finally realises what it takes to be a true hero. It’s in this performance that you see why Zemeckis has flipped for mocap, it’s a technique that allows him to nourish the heart and soul of the audience, while overwhelming their eyes with indelible images.
Beowulf isn’t perfect, it’s at times too austere and po-faced, and while the likes of Hopkins as the tortured Hrothgar and Jolie, playing Grendel’s mother as a vengeful and excruciatingly sexy siren, lend Winstone admirable support, John Malkovich (as Beowulf’s human nemesis, Unferth) is so hammy that you begin to wonder why Zemeckis didn’t just capture someone else’s performance. But as a glimpse into the future of movies, Beowulf is just the beginning, and that’s incredibly exciting.

It’s not a reinvention of the wheel, but in 3D this is an astonishing experience that borders on ‘must-see’, and raises the bar for what James Cameron is planning with Avatar. And you’ll be glad to know that the creepy dead eyes thing has been fixed.

Reviewed by Tom Ambrose

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Your Reviews

Average user rating for Beowulf
Empire Star Rating

I thought the story telling was really wierd first time around, but to be honest I didnt care, if I just go by action scenes this is one of my top 10 favourite films ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by suleiman at 16:05, 01 March 2010 | Report This Post

I thought the story telling was really wierd first time around, but to be honest I didnt care, if I just go by action scenes this is one of my top 10 favourite films ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by suleiman at 16:05, 01 March 2010 | Report This Post

RE: Stunning in 3D...

If I watched in in SD I'd probably agree with most of the above posts - but on blu-ray... it's like having a 99 flake cone stuck up your arsehole. Cold, but sharp (in a nice way) ... More

Posted by DanCurley at 18:36, 06 November 2008 | Report This Post

RE: Stunning in 3D...

I really didn't like this film, I was bored after half an hour. Don't get me wrong, the animation was impressive but I felt it took a lot away from the film. I honestly think it would have been better being a live action film as I feel it would have made more impact. ... More

Posted by TellThatMickHeJust at 16:21, 06 November 2008 | Report This Post

RE: Stunning in 3D...

Watched this on blu-ray last night and sat there, all the way through it, with my eyeballs on stalks. Fuck me - it looks so nice in HD. Unlike a lot of HD films, where you end up getting used to it and it seems all normal, the sensation of your teeth shattering doesn't drop for a second.   I was surprisingly impressed with the film as well. Wasn't expecting much (mainly because of having a cockney geezer playing a 5th century nordic hero would shatter the suspension of disbelieve too m... More

Posted by DanCurley at 14:02, 02 October 2008 | Report This Post

RE: Stunning in 3D...

With regard to the cast, I am a huge fan of Ray Winstone's Beowulf voiceover, and it's really a shame his looks do not match the depth and the tone of his voice, for he could have made some fairly imposing appearances in action movies, were he younger and...well different. Angelina, is a pleasure to behold and an undisputable proof that God exists and he is a man. However, whenever she's told to sound exotic, her only recourse is to assume an accent befitting the daughter of Prince Vlad Dr... More

Posted by Incanus at 01:49, 02 September 2008 | Report This Post

RE: Stunning in 3D...

The question over the film getting a 12A rating is recurrent. Some stress the violence, others point out the nudity. I think one aspect of the movie that should be taken into account, is the fact that being wholly a motion capture piece of work it is very much akin to video games, so the imagery thereof and the general aesthetic result, even the development of the plot itself rings a familiar bell with teenagers acquainted with online role-playing games, so from that point of view the film... More

Posted by Incanus at 01:14, 02 September 2008 | Report This Post

RE: Stunning in 3D...

Director: Robert Zemeckis Screenwriters: Neil Gaiman, Roger Avery Starring: Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins, Angelina Jolie, Crispin Glover, Robin Wright Penn, John Malkovich, Brendan Gleeson, Alison Lohman Synopsis When the monster Grendel (Glover) starts terrorizing the kingdom of Denmark, its king Hrothgar (Hopkins) hires the legendary warrior Beowulf (Winstone) to defeat the creature. However, Beowulf faces a more difficult challenge with Grendel's mother (Jolie), who gives... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by R W at 21:37, 01 September 2008 | Report This Post

Great! Specially on IMAX.

Brilliant. Superb. Exciting. The director's cut is ... More

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Posted by nc_jj at 04:44, 13 August 2008 | Report This Post

Amazing at the cinema........

This was incredible to watch at the cinema, but I am very unsure whether it will be as impresive on dvd at home, regardless of blu-ray/hd. I can only imagine how awsome it was at the Imax. For cinema viewing a fabulous 4stars, jury is out on dvd? ... More

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Posted by gareth_082 at 18:07, 10 May 2008 | Report This Post


i kind of enjoyed it but i think it would have probably been better not being anmanited.but the good plot just maneges to pull through ... More

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Posted by ryanand conor at 21:35, 05 May 2008 | Report This Post

I, am, motion captured!

i really didnt like this film when i first brought it but watched very now and again t o see if i liked it an dnow i can't stop watching it. It really is an epic film, some of the shots look completely real and the beowulf and grendel fight scene is brutal. just wished i had seen it at an imax in 3-d and not at home on my small t.v ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by tango fett at 20:32, 27 April 2008 | Report This Post

RE: Beowulf

Didn't think I'd like this (the eyes still don't look right) but it really surprised me.  Zemeckis is one of the top directors and here he reminds us why.  Actually quite creepy in places (Beowolf's dream). ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Caster at 23:28, 18 April 2008 | Report This Post

I think to enjoy this film, you had to have seen it at the cinema, on DVD and Blu-Ray the movie isn't done any justice, also don't beleive its action packed,most of the film takes place in the hall where Beowulf fights Grendle, there's really only two action scenes,the end one is stunning still on DVD and particualrly Blu-Ray, but the movie still falls short of its thin plot, also the lighting is only ever good when the characters are outside in the open, which I have previously said rarely happ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by dgribble at 14:22, 31 March 2008 | Report This Post

Cleverly done

I didn't go to watch this film at the cinema because the idea of an entirely animated film put me off. But I did watch it eventually and im glad i did. This was a very enjoyable film but a little too violent for a 12 year old to be watching. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by lewey T at 11:12, 27 March 2008 | Report This Post

RE: Very Violent for a 12A

An enjoyable enough updating of ye olde poeme, with some impressive and dynamic visuals, even if it does feel like you're watching an extended cut-scene from a video game. It all gets a bit silly at times, but then so does poetry. (6/10) ... More

Posted by MOTH at 16:29, 26 March 2008 | Report This Post

Very Violent for a 12A

The film itself was expertly made and very cleverly animated, however: Much Much Much Too Violent!! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by blaud at 13:20, 19 March 2008 | Report This Post

How Amazing...

Hollywood have figured out how to do anime. I hope you give Appleseed Ex Machina 4 stars Empire you dirty hypocrites. ... More

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Posted by Lupin 3 at 13:01, 18 March 2008 | Report This Post

Beautiful but empty beowulf

I thought that the film was beautiful to look at; great performances and effects, but curiously hollow and lacking in emotional buildup. Lots of blood and action but little character development and not faithful to the original tale. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by lynnshep at 20:39, 17 March 2008 | Report This Post

Hugely Overated IMO

This film aspires to so much and fails at it all - inconsistent in all areas - plot, script, pacing, conception, realization, even the visuals (which are supposed to be it's big pull) seemed quite ropey to me. Nothing to recommend it. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Mooncalf at 14:12, 17 March 2008 | Report This Post

i thought that this film was absolutely stunning,one of the best of last year.visaully,of course,mind blowing,there are points in the film when you'd swear that you're watching real people and the backgrounds and all are still looks animated of course but that was clearly the intention.I suppose the look of the film is somehwere between photo realism and animation which gives it a kind of otherworldly feel which suits the story perfectly. As well as being a wonderful visual experien... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by existo solvo 2 at 11:32, 13 March 2008 | Report This Post

RE: Bloody Violent

I am so glad not everyone thought this film was brilliant. I was so bored I nearly walked out. If I hadn't been in the expensive cinema I would have! I kept hoping it would get better, and was so disappointed when it didn't. I'd been looking forward to seeing this for absolutely ages, dragged my less than enthusiastic friend with me and he made me apologise afterwards.   I agree that it looked good, although sometimes they were just emotionless, and the dragon scene was exciting. That'... More

Posted by carmilla_barker at 14:39, 18 February 2008 | Report This Post

Bloody Violent

How could this film be a 12A? While it was entertaining and well made it's level of violence should class it as an adult CGI movie. If films like this don't give your kids nightmares then they truly are a desensitized bunch of sprogs   Grendel has to be one of the most horrible and disturbing creations I've seen in a while, this howling deformed fucking denizen was just crying out to be killed, and it was thoroughly satisfying to see Beowulf... More

Posted by Fluke Skywalker at 10:54, 15 February 2008 | Report This Post


3D! This film's in 3D! Also, it's in 3D! Have we mentioned that IT'S IN 3D? How do you spell "one trick pony"? B-E-O-W-U-L-F. Very disappointing. And it should not have been a '12A'. Not at . ... More

Posted by darthjim at 12:47, 04 February 2008 | Report This Post


. ... More

Posted by Kadaj at 12:15, 04 February 2008 | Report This Post

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