Monster Mash

click to enlarge GET A LOAD OF THIS: Stunning animation and visuals make Beowulf a must-see. - Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures
GET A LOAD OF THIS: Stunning animation and visuals make Beowulf a must-see.

Another animated dip into flesh and fantasy for the graphic novel-reading crowd, Robert Zemeckis' Beowulf pumps up the "motion capture" techniques pioneered in Polar Express, coming up with a testosterone free-for-all that out-300's 300. Co-scripters Roger Avary (Pulp Fiction) and fanboy guru Neil Gaiman manage to remain faithful to their source's thousand-year-old essence while bringing a distinctly modern sensibility to this epic about a warrior-king's confrontation with a monster and his mother.

Zemeckis and his writers pump up the story with some juicy pop psychology, irreverent humor and a pervasive bawdiness that pushes the limits of the movie's PG-13 rating. The contemporary feel extends to the title character, who morphs into a curiously modern hero by nature of crucial, hidden flaws that link him to the very monster he vows to destroy. Best of all is the monster himself, the marvelously imperfect Grendel, who stumbles about with his skin turned inside-out, alternately howling and blubbering like a cross between the ravaged soul from Hellraiser and an overgrown special-needs child (an effect sealed by the exquisitely pathetic voice supplied by Crispin Glover).

Visually, Beowulf kicks ass, but the only way to fully appreciate the movie is to see it in Imax 3-D, where the film's digital animation takes on a scale and a depth that's nothing short of thrilling. The movie never really follows up on any of the intriguing ideas it tosses around about the meaning of heroism or the sins of the fathers, and it loses crucial momentum in its last act (when it leaps ahead several years in one jarring bound), but the massive visuals more than make up for the story's shortcomings.

Beowulf (PG-13) Features Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins, Angelina Jolie, John Malkovich, Robin Wright Penn, Brendan Gleeson and Crispin Glover. Now playing at local theaters. 3.5 stars

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