As computer animated films continue to evolve, they become more and more beautiful, while the characters in those films become more photo-realistic. I would imagine that someday these digital characters will become totally indistinguishable from live actors, and I look forward to the day that someone may be able to incorporate a digital Marilyn Monroe or Humphrey Bogart into a new movie. Of course, these animated characters are not yet the level where one would think they were living and breathing people, but they are oh so interesting to look at, plus director Robert Zemeckis keeps pushing the envelope of what is attainable through computer animation and motion capture. Just look at the leaps forward the technology has taken between THE POLAR EXPRESS and BEOWULF ($30). BEOWULF is a truly stunning achievement that marries computer animation to a thrilling, action packed adventure tale.
Adapted from the ancient Old English poem that has been the staple of many a junior high school English class, BEOWULF is a heroic epic that has been given a new life in the digital movie realm. In many ways BEOWULF is the great grand daddy of many similar tales, and whose influence can still be felt in modern literature, as well as modern adventure filmmaking, and even in video game scenarios. The premise of BEOWULF the movie starts off in 6th Century Denmark at a celebration hosted by King Hrothgar. Unfortunately, the merry making is brought to an abrupt halt by the arrival of a horrible monster named Grendel, who slaughters many of the realm’s bravest warriors. After the monster’s attack, Hrothgar offers half of his gold to any warrior who can slay Grendel and remove the curse from his kingdom.
Enter Beowulf, a chiseled, golden haired warrior from a far off land who vows to destroy the giant monster with his bare hands. As expected, Grendel meets his doom at the hands of Beowulf, but the story does not end there. Grendel’s mother seeks retribution and quickly slays Beowulf’s companions, which leads to a confrontation between the two, where Grendel’s mother seduces Beowulf with promises of power and glory. The film’s third act advances the timeline by decades, introducing us to an older and wiser King Beowulf, who is forced to relive the heroism of his youth and face off against a dragon that threatens his own kingdom. The superb voice and motion captured talent behind BEOWULF includes Ray Winstone, Robin Wright Penn, Anthony Hopkins, Sebastian Roché, John Malkovich, Crispin Glover, Brendan Gleeson, Costas Mandylor and Angelina Jolie.
Paramount Home Entertainment has made BEOWULF available on DVD in great looking 2.35:1 wide screen presentation that has been enhanced for playback on 16:9 displays. This is a visually magnificent DVD that demonstrates that standard definition can still impress. Sharpness and the level of image detail pretty much push the limits of what can be rendered at NTSC resolution. Colors are generally fully saturated and rich looking. Blacks are deep, whites are crisp and the picture boasts excellent contrast. Obviously taken from the digital files, the image appears flawless. Digital compression artifacts are very well concealed throughout.
BEOWULF comes with an aggressively mixed Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack that makes the most of all the outlying channels. Sound effects whirl around, or thunder out from all parts of the soundstage; following the action with total ease and clarity. Fidelity is truly excellent; the music and sound effects pack a tremendous wallop. The bass channel is deep and is ground shaking. Dialogue is warmly recorded and easy to understand. French and Spanish 5.1 channel tracks are also encoded onto the DVD, as are English, French and Spanish subtitles.
Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the DVD's interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a nice complement of supplements. At twenty-two minutes, A Hero's Journey: The Making Of Beowulf is the most substantial program on the DVD, offering interviews and a look at the motion capture and animation process. Other Featurettes include Beasts Of Burden: Designing The Creatures Of Beowulf (seven minutes), The Origins Of Beowulf (five minutes), Creating The Ultimate Beowulf (two minutes), and The Art Of Beowulf (five minutes). Six Deleted Scenes with incomplete animation and a Theatrical Trailer close out the supplements.
As I stated above BEOWULF is a truly stunning computer animated achievement. Paramount’s DVD looks and sounds phenomenal. Highly Recommended.
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