US theatrical release poster
November 16, 2007
Beowulf is a 2007 American motion capture fantasy film written by Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary inspired by the Old English epic poem of the same name. Directed by Robert Zemeckis, the film was created through a motion capture process similar to the technique he used in The Polar Express. The cast includes Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins, Robin Wright Penn, Brendan Gleeson, John Malkovich, Crispin Glover, Alison Lohman, and Angelina Jolie. It was released in the United Kingdom and United States on November 16, 2007, and was available to view in IMAX 3D, RealD, Dolby 3D and standard 2D format.
Beowulf (Ray Winstone) is a brave legendary Geatish warrior who travels to Denmark alongside his band of soldiers, which include his best friend, Wiglaf (Brendan Gleeson), in answer to the call of King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins), who needs a hero to slay a monster called Grendel (Crispin Glover), a hideously disfigured troll-like creature with superhuman strength, who attacks Hrothgar's mead hall, Heorot, whenever the Danes hold a celebration there, and he was forced to close the hall. Upon arriving, Beowulf immediately becomes attracted to Hrothgar's wife, Queen Wealtheow (Robin Wright Penn), who takes interest in him.
Beowulf and his men celebrate in Heorot, in order to lure Grendel out. When the beast does attack, Beowulf attacks him unarmed and naked, determining that since Grendel seems to be immune to mortal weapons and carries no weapons of his own, armour and a sword would be pointless in the fight. Watching his reactions during the melee, Beowulf discovers that Grendel has hypersensitive hearing, which is why he interrupts Hrothgar's celebrations - the noise they make is physically painful to him. Beowulf tears off Grendel's arm, and as thanks for freeing his kingdom from the monster that plagued them for years, Hrothgar gives Beowulf his golden drinking horn, which represents the time Hrothgar slew the mighty dragon Fafnir.
Inside his cave, the dying Grendel tells his Mother what was done to him, and by whom, and she swears revenge, travelling to Heorot in the night and slaughtering Beowulf's men while they were sleeping after the celebration. Hrothgar tells both Beowulf and Wiglaf who had been sleeping outside the hall at the time that it was the work of Grendel's mother, the last of the Water Demons, who was thought by Hrothgar to have left the land. Beowulf and Wiglaf travel up to the cave of Grendel's mother to slay her. Only Beowulf enters the cave where he encounters Grendel's mother (Angelina Jolie), who takes the form of a beautiful woman. She offers to make him the greatest king who ever lived if he will agree to give her a son to replace Grendel and let her keep the golden drinking horn. Beowulf gives in to her advances and returns, claiming to have killed her. Hrothgar, however, realizes the truth. He tells Beowulf indirectly that, much like Beowulf, he was also seduced by Grendel's mother and was Grendel's father. After unexpectedly naming Beowulf his successor as king, much to the dismay of his royal advisor, Unferth (John Malkovich), who was hoping to take the throne, Hrothgar commits suicide.
Years later, an elderly Beowulf is married to Wealtheow, who refuses to give him an heir since he had previously slept with the water demon. As a result, Beowulf takes a mistress, Ursula (Alison Lohman). One day, Unferth's slave Cain (Dominic Keating) finds the golden drinking horn in a swamp near Grendel's cave and, not realizing why it is there, brings it back to the kingdom. That night, a nearby village is destroyed by a dragon, which leaves Unferth alive in order to deliver a message to King Beowulf (which is "The Sins of the Fathers", revealing that the dragon is actually Beowulf's son born to Grendel's mother). Removing the horn has reneged on the agreement between Beowulf and Grendel's mother, who has now sent their son, the dragon, to destroy his kingdom.
Beowulf and Wiglaf go to the Cave once again and Beowulf goes into the cave alone. When Grendel's mother does appear, Beowulf throws the Golden Horn towards her in return for her not attacking the lands. Grendel's mother considers it too late for any kind of agreement and so she releases the dragon from the cave to attack Beowulf's Kingdom where it tries to attack Wealthow and Ursula. Beowulf goes to great lengths to stop the monster, going as far as severing his own arm, and ultimately kills the dragon by ripping its heart out. The dragon's fall mortally wounds Beowulf, but he lives long enough to watch the carcass of the dragon transform into its true form, the humanoid body of his son, before it is washed out to sea. Beowulf then shares words with Wiglaf and tries to tell him the truth, but dies before he can finish. Wiglaf dismisses his words as mere disillusions-although it seems clear from the earlier conversation with Beowulf outside the dragon's cave, where Wiglaf refuses to listen to Beowulf's confession, that Wiglaf is all too aware of the truth. Shortly thereafter, Wiglaf, the new king, gives Beowulf a Norse funeral and watches on the shore as the hero's body is taken by the sea, only to then witness Grendel's mother give a final kiss to Beowulf. Now it is impossible to pretend not to know the truth. At this moment it appears that Grendel's mother attempts to seduce him. Wiglaf steps out into the water, clearly tempted, but showing reluctance to follow her, as the scene blacks out.
- The title character, Beowulf, is portrayed by Ray Winstone. Zemeckis cast Winstone after seeing his performance as the title character of the 2003 ITV serial Henry VIII. On the topic of the original poem, Winstone commented during an interview, "I had the beauty of not reading the book, which I understand portrays Beowulf as a very one-dimensional kind of character; a hero and a warrior and that was it. I didn't have any of that baggage to bring with me." Winstone enjoyed working with motion capture, stating that "You were allowed to go, like theater, where you carry a scene on and you become engrossed within the scene. I loved the speed of it. There was no time to sit around. You actually cracked on with a scene and your energy levels were kept up. There was no time to actually sit around and lose your concentration. So, for me, I actually really, really enjoyed this experience." Unlike some of his castmates, Winstone's animated counterpart bears little resemblance to the actor who was in his early 50s when he filmed the role; Winstone noted that his computer-generated counterpart resembled himself at the age of eighteen, although the filmmakers did not have a photo for reference. Winstone also played a dwarf performer, and the "Golden Man"/Dragon.
- The antagonists Grendel and Grendel's mother are portrayed by Crispin Glover and Angelina Jolie, respectively. Glover had previously worked with Zemeckis in Back to the Future, when he portrayed George McFly. Zemeckis had found Glover tiresome on set, because of his lack of understanding of shooting a film, but realized this would not be a problem as on a motion capture film he could choose his angles later. Glover's dialogue was entirely in Old English. Jolie had wanted to work with Zemeckis, and had read the poem years before but could not remember it well until she read the script and was able to recall basic themes. The actress recounted her first impression of her character's appearance by saying "...I was told I was going to be a lizard. Then I was brought into a room with Bob, and a bunch of pictures and examples, and he showed me this picture of a woman half painted gold, and then a lizard. And, I’ve got kids and I thought 'That's great. That's so bizarre. I'm going to be this crazy reptilian person and creature.'" Jolie filmed her role over two days when she was three months pregnant. She was startled by the character's nude human form, stating that for an animated film "I was really surprised that I felt that exposed."
- King Hrothgar is portrayed by Anthony Hopkins. Hopkins noted in an interview that since Zemeckis is an American, he wasn't certain what accent Hopkins should use for the role of Hrothgar. Hopkins told him, "Well, Welsh would be my closest because that's where I come from." It was also his first time working with motion capture technology. Hopkins noted, "I didn't know what was expected. It was explained to me, I'm not stupid, but I still don't get the idea of how it works. I have no idea [...] you don't have sets, so it is like being in a Brecht play, you know, with just bare bones and you have nothing else." When asked if he had to read the original poem of Beowulf in school, Hopkins replied: "No, I was hopeless at school. I couldn't read anything. I mean I could read, but I was so inattentive. I was one of those poor kids, you know, who was just very slow, didn't know what they were talking about... So I tried to get around to reading Beowulf just before I did this movie, and it was a good modern translation. It was Trevor Griffiths, I’m not sure, but I couldn't hack it, and I tend to like to just go with the script if it's a good script."
- Unferth is portrayed by John Malkovich. Malkovich became involved in the project because one of his friends, who had worked with Zemeckis, "spoke very highly of him. I had always found him a very interesting and innovative filmmaker. I liked the script very much and I liked the group involved and the process interested me a great deal also." He found the experience of working with motion capture to be similar to his experiences working in the theater. He also found the process intriguing: "Say you do a normal day of filmmaking. Sometimes that’s 1/8 of a page, sometimes it’s 3/8th of a page, normally let’s say it’s 2½ pages, maybe 3. Now it’s probably a little more than it used to be but not always. So you may be acting for a total of 20 minutes a day. In this, you act the entire day all the time except for the tiny amount of time it takes them to sort of coordinate the computer information, let’s say, and make sure that the computers are reading the data and that you’re transmitting the data. It interests me on that level because I’m a professional actor so I’d just as soon act as sit around." Malkovich also recalled that he studied the original poem in high school, and that “I think we got smacked if we couldn’t recite a certain number of stanzas. It was in the Old English class and I think my rendition was exemplary."}
The cast also includes:
- Brendan Gleeson as Wiglaf, Beowulf's lieutenant
- Robin Wright Penn as Queen Wealtheow
- Alison Lohman as Ursula, Beowulf's concubine when he is an old king
- Costas Mandylor as Hondshew
- Sebastian Roche as Wulfgar
- Greg Ellis as Garmund
- Tyler Steelman as Young Cain, Unferth's disabled slave
- Dominic Keating as Adult Cain
- Rik Young as Eofor
- Charlotte Salt as Estrith
- Leslie Harter Zemeckis as Yrsa
- Main article: Beowulf (soundtrack)
|Released||November 20, 2007|
|Label||Warner Bros. Records/Warner Music Group|
|Produced by||Glen Ballard and Alan Silvestri|
The soundtrack was released November 20, 2007. Composer Alan Silvestri was largely responsible for the production of the soundtrack album, although actresses Robin Wright Penn and Idina Menzel performed several songs in the soundtrack's score. The score features many violent and foreshadowing tones intertwined with gentler, anthem-like tendencies.
|1.||"''Beowulf'' Main Title"||0:54|
|2.||"First Grendel Attack"||1:50|
|3.||"Gently as She Goes"||Robin Wright||1:36|
|4.||"What We Need Is a Hero"||1:40|
|5.||"I'm Here to Kill Your Monster"||1:47|
|6.||"I Did Not Win the Race"||2:16|
|7.||"A Hero Comes Home" (in-film version)||Robin Wright||1:08|
|8.||"Second Grendel Attack"||4:02|
|9.||"I Am Beowulf"||4:32|
|12.||"He Has a Story to Tell"||2:42|
|13.||"Full of Fine Promises"||1:11|
|14.||"Beowulf Slays the Beast"||6:01|
|15.||"He Was the Best of Us"||5:23|
|16.||"The Final Seduction"||2:52|
|17.||"A Hero Comes Home" (end credits version)||Idina Menzel||3:13|