Big Screen Takes Liberties with 'Beowulf'

The film adaptation of the epic poem Beowulf hits theaters Friday. The film takes liberties with the ancient story, adding romance and sex, and a nearly naked Angelina Jolie. The movie is also in 3-D. So who's standing in line for a sneak preview?

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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

Since you can't see a Broadway show this weekend, there is always the movie theater. And for fans of computer-animated epics, the film "Beowulf" is calling.

U: Beowulf waes breme - blaed, wide, sprang...

NORRIS: Here's what you're in for this weekend:

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE "BEOWULF")

NORRIS: (As Beowulf) I'm Beowulf, and I'm here to kill your monster.

: That was the voice of Ray Winstone as the hero. Onscreen, director Robert Zemeckis has portrayed him as a strapping bronzed he-man. In fact, the entire cast has been digitized using sophisticated 3D computer animation.

NORRIS: The film takes some liberties with the storyline as well. Most significantly, it adds romance and sex and the figure of a nearly naked computerized Angelina Jolie.

: Straying from the original story didn't seem to bother the hundreds of people in line at a screening in Washington, D.C. this week. Most of the crowd couldn't recall the plotline anyway.

U: I know absolutely nothing.

U: Angelina Jolie is a co-star.

U: I mean, I don't remember much about the story. I did remember I like it even though it's something that I had to read.

U: Ain't it about some vampires or something, or werewolves or something?

U: I actually don't know about it. But from what I understand it was a story. He is a warrior. He fought the dragons. That's all I remember.

NORRIS: But it seems knowledge of the poem is not a prerequisite for enjoying the film.

U: I loved it.

U: I thought the movie was good. It had a good message - temptation?

U: Oh, I mean, it was really good and like - and it had, like, a very original concept, you know - well, not original...

U: Probably, maybe seven out of 10?

U: Overall, I'd say the movie is okay, definitely more a rental than the theater.

: That was Erin Scormanich(ph), Justin Wilson(ph), Cindy and Patrick Nibbersen(ph), Durvon Kyle(ph), Jessica Hardy(ph) and Norma Mosby(ph) fresh from seeing the Robert Zemeckis computer-enhanced "Beowulf."

NORRIS: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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'Beowulf' Sexes Up, Dumbs Down an Epic

Beowulf i i

Viking hero Beowulf is played by Ray Winstone — or a pixilated version of him, anyway — in Robert Zemeckis' video-game version of the literary classic. hide caption

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Beowulf

Viking hero Beowulf (played by Ray Winstone, left) and his second-in-command, Wiglaf (Brendan Gleeson)

It's been 50 years since Hollywood first started flirting with 3-D movies, and the special glasses required for viewing have gotten a whole lot more substantial. The stories being filmed are just as flimsy.

Of course Beowulf does have a more impressive literary pedigree than, say, Bwana Devil. But you'd never know that by looking at the movie.

Beowulf's story of a hero who slays monsters has become a fanboy fantasy that panders with demonic energy to the young male demographic. Even coming-attractions dialogue that's what you'd expect — or maybe a little stupider — doesn't prepare you for a movie that's overstuffed with gorefest moments I'd rather not describe. Ah, to be 15 again.

If you're old enough to vote, however, seeing all this splatter in 3-D may not be the thrill of a lifetime. And seeing the naked body of an old and overweight man in that extra dimension is probably not a treat for anyone, of any age.

Director Robert Zemeckis employs the same performance-capture system he used on The Polar Express, and it doesn't help. The technique transfers the actors' motions to the screen, but allows their appearance to be monkeyed with. So Angelina Jolie can look naked as the monster Grendel's mother. No wonder he's got problems.

What's most troubling about Beowulf, though, is what it says about the Zemeckis' career. He's gone from being a director of stories to an orchestrator of eye candy — and a willing slave to technological advances. But rarely has so much expensive technique been put at the service of such feeble and pathetic screenwriting. The man who brought you Forrest Gump now worries about spurting blood. Thus does Hollywood devour its young.

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