Beowulf (2007) - Director's Cut [HD-DVD]

Genre(s): Action / Adventure / Drama / Fantasy
Paramount || Unrated - 115 minutes - $39.99 || February 26, 2008
Reviewer: Brian Oliver || Posted On: 2008-02-17


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.:: F I L M ::.
The Film

S P E C I A L
.: F E A T U R E S :.

Special Features

A U D I O &
.:: V I D E O ::.

Audio and Video

.:: O V E R A L L ::.
Overall
.::MOVIE INFORMATION::.
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Writer(s): Neil Gaiman & Roger Avary (screenplay)
Cast: Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins, John Makovich, Robin Wright Penn, Crispin Glover, Alison Lohman, Angelina Jolie


Theatrical Release Date: November 16, 2007


.::DVD INFORMATION::.
Supplemental Material:
  • Beowulf in Volume (PiP)
  • A Heroes Journey: The Making of Beowulf
  • The Journey Continues
  • Beasts of Burden: Designing the Creatures of Beowulf
  • The Origins of Beowulf
  • Creating the Ultimate Beowulf
  • The Art of Beowulf
  • A Conversation with Bob Zemeckis
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Theatrical Trailer


Technical Information:
  • Number of Discs: 2
  • Widescreen (2.35)
  • English (Dolby Digital Plus 5.1), French (Dolby Digital Plus 5.1), Spanish (Dolby Digital Plus 5.1),
  • Subtitles: English, French, Spanish

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.::THE FILM::.

IMAGE

The story of “Beowulf” goes back so far that it is believed to be the oldest fictional story in the history of man. It has been passed down throughout the ages, inspiring other classic stories such as “The Lord of the Rings” and so many others.

It is the classic hero story with a cautionary tale woven in. In Robert Zemeckis’s (and writers Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary) adaptation, we follow a man named Beowulf (Winstone), a heroic figure who comes into a small town to kill the beast known as Grendel (Glover) who has ravaged the poor town’s people during a time of merriment. Along with his best friend and aid, Wiglaf (Gleeson), he takes on the beast but discovers there is more to this than meets the eye as the town’s king (Hopkins) has his own secret having to do with Grendel and Grendel’s mother (Jolie), a water demon.

Honestly, I’ve barely heard of “Beowulf” before this movie (and never knew about the 1999 Christopher Lambert gem either). I knew about it in passing but unlike others, I never read the poem back in my middle or high school days. So this being my first foray into the mythology, I was impressed as you can see the inspirations it has had, but at the same time, the movie itself felt a bit underwhelming.

I’ve never been a big fan of the stop motion animation. Yes, it looks great but something about it never feels right. It’s not like the new type of animation used for the Shrek movies, where I can chalk it up to the next generation of the genre, but here, it never quite has worked. It’s very cool as a novelty, but like most novelties, it wears thin. Although great advances have been made in the technology like trying to bring life behind the characters’ eyes, there is still something inherently creepy. It’s not creepy in the “Madden” (i.e. zombie eyes) kind of way, but still a bit distracting.

However, there is still plenty to enjoy about Beowulf. First, Zemeckis and company have collected a fine cast including the wonderful Ray Winstone as Beowulf, Anthony Hopkins as King Hrothgar, John Malkovich playing Unferth and Crispin Glover (re-uniting with Zemeckis since Back to the Future) in a Gollum-like role as Grendel. The film also features Brendan Gleeson and Alison Lohman in fine parts.

But the noticeable disappointment among them is that of Angelina Jolie. Jolie gets the coveted “and” placement in the credits but with only 5-minutes of total screen time, she didn’t have nearly enough to make an impression other than the re-emergence of her accent from Alexander. I love Jolie. Aside from being a gorgeous (and f-d up) woman, she’s very talented, so it’s unsatisfactory that she wasn’t used more effectively. Perhaps a story on her past was unwarranted or maybe they (Paramount) was waiting for a spin off, but I wish the writer’s gave her some more time to develop.

The big question is, what does this “Director’s Cut” add from the theatrical version? Unlike the “DC” of Zodiac, it was hard to compare the two. I tried to clock each new scene, but with only a total of 28 seconds difference between the “DC” and “Theatrical Version”, it was tough. The first two and a half minutes contain about 11 seconds; one where a man licks a woman’s cleavage and the other has a woman being chased before being caught and the guy, well, when you see it, you’ll know. The big additions come during Grendel’s assault which has approximately 12 seconds of inserts with everything from men getting speared to another man getting split open where upon Grendel takes a gushing drink of his blood. Although the extra time is minimal, what was added surely would’ve gotten the film an “R” rating...

Beowulf is a fine example of where technology is and where it’s headed. Visually stunning, the film also has a cool story and some fine actors, but the sum equals not a great film, but merely a good one.



.::SPECIAL FEATURES::.

Note: Features with an asterisk (*) are HD-DVD exclusives.

Disc one on the HD-DVD contains the film and “Beowulf in Volume”*, a picture-in-picture video where the viewer can watch the movie on the big screen and in the corner see how each scene was created using ball markers.

The second disc contains the rest, and all in HD.

A Heroes Journey: The Making of Beowulf (23:02) – Nice little ‘making-of’ takes us inside the volume set, a giant room surrounded by infrared lights and cameras where the actors do their performances, and shows how it was all done. There is an optional “Interactive Version” trivia where a marker will appear and, when pressing “enter”, takes you to a separate featurette on the topic at hand. This is also available under The Journey Continues (21:14)* separately if you’re so inclined. The highlight is getting to follow Ray Winstone around some and hearing his comments on playing the part and the use of the technology. The only drawback is, we get to see Winstone, Anthony Hopkins, Brendan Gleeson, Crispin Glover and others perform, but Angelina Jolie was nowhere in sight. What a shame...

I should note, this feature (sans “Interactive Version”) is also available on the “Director’s Cut” and the “theatrical version” discs.

Beasts of Burden: Designing the Creatures of Beowulf (6:52) – Featurette that gives a look at how the creatures in the film were designed, including the use of Crispin Glover as Grendel.

The Origins of “Beowulf” (5:06) – Gives a Cliff’s Notes on where the story of Beowulf came from and taking it to the big screen.

Creating the Ultimate Beowulf (1:51) – Very short featurette that shows how they created the character of Beowulf and how Winstone’s voice was perfect for the part.

The Art of Beowulf (5:18) – Gives a glimpse at the artwork done on the film including set drawings and models for the filmmakers and actors to use for reference while filming.

A Conversation with Bob Zemeckis (10:10)* - Like is Q&A on Cast Away, Zemeckis receives questions from a crowd at USC that followed a screening of the 3-D version. Not entirely thrilling but at least we get to hear from the director a little more.

The disc rounds out with the theatrical trailer.



.::AUDIO & VIDEO::.

IMAGE

Beowulf is presented in 2.35 OAR and looks utterly fantastic in HD (1080p). Animated movies benefit some more in HD I think due to a controlled environment where dust and scratches aren’t prominent. Facial details are excellent and colors look like they should with no oversaturation. ***** / *****

The Dolby Digital Plus audio track is more than suitable for this release, but at the same time, I wasn’t overwhelmed with it either. But it is a fine mix that, while it will not impress guests, it’s more than suitable for an action movie of this caliber. French and Spanish DD+ tracks are also available. ****½ / *****



.::OVERALL::.

Beowulf on HD-DVD is a good release and looks impressive on the small screen, so if you enjoyed the movie enough, a purchase might be worth it. If, however, the film didn’t enthrall you, you can always save money and go for the SD version and probably be just as satisfied as the “exclusive” material here isn’t all that great and not worth the extra cost. But if you’re still into HD-DVDs, go right ahead.


Note: Images are not from HD-DVD source (these are from the SD version) and do not necessarily represent the true quality of the picture.