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02.20.08

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Beowulf: Director's Cut

One disc; Paramount; $29.99

By Michael S. Gant


Robert Zemeckis repurposes a musty epic so as to attract 14-year-old boys addicted to video games. King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins) keeps losing minions to Grendel's pop-ins and calls on Beowulf (Ray Winstone) to save his kingdom; Beowulf obliges and eventually snags Queen Wealthow (Robin Wright Penn, as bland in motion-capture as she is in real life) in the bargain. It's Shrek enlivened with gore and Renaissance Faire wenches. The mead-hall action is hectic and confusing, but Crispin Glover's tortured "mama's boy" Grendel ("Rippéd offa me arm," the monster bleats) and Angelina Jolie's supermodel mom steal the hero's Nordic thunder. The director's cut promises scenes "too intense for theaters," but I saw nothing that a bloody-minded child wouldn't enjoy. The extras are more entertaining than the film. The behind-the-scenes footage demonstrates how complicated—and ludicrous—performance-capture photography can look. The actors don their scuba suits covered with tiny sensors and wires and start jumping in their harnesses like kids in a play set. Especially amusing is the sight of Glover tearing apart miniature stuffed dummies that will eventually, through the miracle of software, become gushing monster meat. Ultrabuffed Beowulf turns out to be doughy Ray Winstone, whose Richard Burtonesque voice would be wasted in a life-action film. Some other features show the impressive models and storyboards for the project; they even reveal that what look like spiked high heels on Grendel's mom's feet are actually pointy hoof claws.


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