Saturday, May 26 , 2018, 10:30 am | Fair 67º


Cinema in Focus: ‘Beowulf’

New film version of a classic poem turns to "captured animation" in a lost cause.

1 Star — Degrading

The classic poem of Beowulf is only a reference point for Robert Zemeckis’ film of the same name. Weaving a different tale with the familiar characters of this 6th century setting and 10th century poem, Beowulf  the film’s plot morphs into a dark and deliberate tale about the curse that comes upon a person, family and nation who makes their bed with evil. We see the deformed monstrous Grendel (Crispen Glover) who is the offspring of a demonic mother (Angelina Jolie) and a man she seduced. We see their hideous offspring wreak havoc upon the man’s life as he attempts to enjoy the spoils of the wealth, power and fame her evil power granted him. We see the hero come from across the sea, Beowulf (Ray Winstone), whose courage helps him to defeat one form of evil only to have his ambition and pride cause him to become seduced by another. We see loyal friends and manipulative advisers, as well as the usual sea monsters and dragons of mythological fame.

Using the same technology as in Polar Express, Zemeckis creates a "captured animation" in which his actors are transformed into computer-generated "photorealistic animation." This allows him to create a fantasy world in which the brutality and sensuality are overwhelming. The use of 3-D increases the impact of both as the swords, knives, blood and figures intrude into the theater as the film is viewed, making the experience all the more realistic. It is not a film for children and a degrading one for youth and adults.

Presenting a pre-Christian view of the world, the film struggles to find its moral footing within a brutal world constantly at war. When King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins) receives the suggestion that his people stop sacrificing sheep and goats to their gods and accept the new religion of Jesus coming from Rome, he rejects the offer. The manipulative adviser, Unferth (John Malkovich), becomes the symbol of the Christian faith as he begins to wear the cross, but his behavior is consistently uncaring and does not represent Christian love. This rejection of a Christian morality allows the story to remain focused on the mythical human heroes who are needed to fight not only the nation’s foes but also the evil demons that haunt them. This mythological focus allows the tale to demonstrate that all such heroes are fallible and weak, as Beowulf admits to his beautiful queen, Wealthow (Robin Wright Penn).

Within this film version of Beowulf there are few redeeming qualities. There is courage, but it is obviously contaminated with pride. There is loyalty, but it is limited and will not accompany the hero into danger. There is love, but it is unrequited or unexpressed. There is beauty, but it is deceptive. And there is forgiveness, but it is obligatory and does not restore relationship.

When Beowulf faces the consequences of having allowed himself to become joined with evil, the intention is that the curse of evil will be forever lifted from his family, friends and nation. But the final scene of the film presents the clear implication that he has failed in his attempt to sacrifice himself to end all evil. That human heroes are not capable of defeating evil is a truth that this film does clearly present.


1. When King Hrothgar proclaims that his new hall is for "merrymaking and fornication," he is asserting clearly his own values as well as the values of his nation. Do you believe this "fornication with evil" Hrothgar represents is still present today? Why do you answer as you do?

2. The seductive presence of evil is shown in this film by Grendel’s mother. When we see her reflection in the water as she comforts her son, she is reptilian in form. Have you ever experienced both the seductive beauty and the cold reptilian nature of evil at the same time? How did you respond?

3. The need for "fallible and weak" humans to have a Savior who can truly defeat evil is presented by this film. Where do you turn to find such a Savior?

King Hrothgar rejected Jesus as his Savior and, even when the curse was lifted on his own life, he still committed suicide. Why do you believe the film presented him in that way?

Cinema In Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church on the Mesa. For more reviews, visit

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