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Paramount Home Video presents
Beowulf-Director's Cut (Blu-ray) (2007)

"Keep a memory of me, not as a king or a hero; but as a man, fallible and flawed."
- Beowulf (Ray Winstone)

Review By: Matt Serafini  
Published: September 19, 2008

Stars: Ray Winstone, Angelina Jolie, Brendan Gleeson, Crispin Glover
Other Stars: Anthony Hopkins, Robin Wright Penn, John Malkovich
Director: Robert Zemeckis

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for gore, violence, nudity, sexuality
Run Time: 01h:54m:33s
Release Date: July 29, 2008
UPC: 097361386249
Genre: fantasy


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ B-A+A+ A-

DVD Review

The English major in me was very excited when it was announced that Robert Zemeckis would be tackling a star-studded version of one of epic poetry's most amazing works. After years of mind-boggling adaptations (I'm still waiting for someone to explain to me what Christopher Lambert in a post-apocalyptic landscape has to do with the poem) it seemed like Hollywood was prepared to do right by Beowulf.

And they did. Sort of.

The last thing I want to do is bog this review down with a lengthy dissertation of poem vs. film. I can't speak for my fellow English majors out there but those long nights spent in front of the computer screen, hammering away at the keys to produce something of tangible acceptance for my professor were not the best days of my life. I loved the studies and the discussion, but I never figured out how to make literary analysis feel anything but mechanical. I guess that's why I'm a technical writer now.

But let's talk about Beowulf, again. My dOc colleague, Mark Zimmer, wrote a very thoughtful of analysis of this film for its HD DVD release. Since we're talking about Paramount's Blu-ray here, though, I wanted to take this opportunity to interject my own thoughts. Beowulf certainly isn't a perfect experience, but watching this home video version nearly a year after seeing its wonderful 3-D exhibition in theaters, I was happy to find it every bit as enthralling—if flawed—as I remembered.

The marvelous detail prevalent in every nook and cranny of Zemeckis's synthetic environment creates a world as sweeping and heroic as any epic fantasy. From brimming high seas, frosty mountain peaks, gloomy castle keeps and dank, cavernous dungeons, there isn't a flaw to find within these details. The atmosphere creates a full-on living and breathing fantasy world for which these characters to inhabit.

Oddly enough, it's when we concentrate on the characters and not the landscapes where Beowulf flounders most seriously. Much criticism has been heaped on Beowulf (along with Zemeckis's previous film, The Polar Express) for its exhibition of beautifully rendered CGI characters that ultimately seem soul-dead behind the eyes. While I'm not as contemptuous towards this style of animation as some critics (many who believe Zemeckis is out to eliminate actors from the business entirely, a bit of an exaggeration if I do say so), I can't help but agree that this might have worked better with real actors (and not just because I'd rather see a real naked Angelina Jolie rising up out of that cold water). Something about this computer generated cast simply prevents Beowulf from becoming as good as it could be. The voice talent is all top notch, though there's an heir of lifelessness that hangs over the film (particularly in the most dramatic, dialogue-heavy moments).

Criticisms have been leveled against Beowulf on the screenplay front as well. The decision to develop the title character into a human being complete with emotions and flaws seemingly robs him of heroism—his sole characteristic in the poem. Undoubtedly, this decision (by writers Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary) is to provide Beowulf with enough dimensions to merit watching a two-hour movie. It's an understandable decision, particularly when you consider the source material. There are always purists out there who expect 100% faithfulness, but Beowulf isn't Lord of the Rings. The character undergoes no significant change from beginning to end and, let's face it, two hours of braggadocio and bravado would get old before Grendel and Beowulf even decided to throw down.

Besides, Gaiman and Avary have remained true to the character of Beowulf (and the text) in the most brilliantly sneaky of fashions. It's true that our hero is now a flawed man whose later years are wracked with lots of guilt and regret. But his failures are known only to those closest to him. To all others in Geatland, Beowulf's reputation remains that of the text: the brazen hero. The audience is in on the ground floor here, many of whom are unwilling to accept the flawed Beowulf. I personally thought it was the cleverest of ways to add layers while adhering to the integrity to the epic poem.

Beowulf is an interesting film most bogged down by its own experimental style. I liked this decidedly adult cartoon for all the blood and sex it throws around. The story takes a few tumbles in the second and third act (Beowulf's confrontation with Grendel's Mother is a regrettable decision even if I liked what the writers were going for) but it always entertains. It's a good film that feels like its going to get great any second. Unfortunately though, it just never gets there.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Wow. Paramount's HD master is the same from their previous HD DVD release by most accounts. Having never seen that release I can only attest to the quality of the Blu-ray. It's a transfer as good as they get. In my review I discussed the level of detail brimming in every scene and it's this Blu-ray that truly brings it to life. It may not be 3-D like in theaters, but it's the next best thing.

Thankfully, the disc is devoid of flaws. You're not going to get the DNR that marred the last few Paramount catalog titles I went through and there's not a trace of edge enhancement to worry about. This is a fabulous title and, from a visual standpoint, I can't recommend it enough.

Image Transfer Grade: A+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
TruHD
English (TruHD), French, Spanish (5.1 Only)yes


Audio Transfer Review: The very definition of a TruHD track! Get ready to be transported to into the film's lush environment where you'll dine in the great hall of Heorot (complete with echoing ambiance) and battle bloodthirsty creatures. This sucker booms and thunders like few TruHD tracks I've ever heard. No matter the scene, the track recreates the atmosphere with a rich and textured track. Of course, I also liked the illusion of Angelina Jolie being in my living room thanks to the echoing effect when she confronts Beowulf for the first time. All in all you'll feel like you're a part of this film thanks to this track. It's perfect.

Audio Transfer Grade: A+

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 15 cues
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
11 Deleted Scenes
1 Documentaries
5 Featurette(s)
Packaging: standard Blu-ray packaging
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. In the Volume, motion capture comparison
Extras Review: This baby is packed: the picture in picture comparison piece. which runs the length of the film. covers all aspects: motion capture, animatics, etc. It's a nifty piece of supplemental material which effective makes up for the lack of commentary track.

The 11 deleted scenes are crude and unfinished. I wasn't too impressed with anything here.

The collection of five featurettes run between two and 10 minutes and encompass varying aspects of production: conception art and character design, the casting of Ray Winstone, art direction, a chat with Gaiman and Avary and a discussion with Zemeckis, all of which are in HD. I liked these glimpses as it really strengthened my appreciation of the effort involved here. Each piece is insightful, even the brief ones.

A Hero's Journey is the long documentary on this disc and it comes in two versions: standard and interactive. It's an amazingly lively piece which details the creation of an animated epic such as this. The interactive version is extended by about 20 minutes to detail more aspects of the production. There's also a feature to access these extended bits separately.

Extras Grade: A-

 

Final Comments

Yeah, it's flawed. But it's also kinda cool. A multi-million dollar fantasy flick with an edge to it. If you're studying this in college you're best bet still is to read the poem. That said, Paramount's Blu-ray release is one of the best available on the format. If you're looking for rock-solid reference material to show off the powers of Blu-ray, this disc is an absolute must have. For my money its a satisfying adventure film marred by a few poor scripting decisions.

 


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