Animation is a glorious medium to tell the finest of stories. Its utilisation often preserves magnificent, timeless tales from history far away from us. Beowulf has such integrity and historical beauty to it that any adaptation is doubtless a stranger to the prose and poetry it offers. Still, someone has to do it. Gus Van Sant was the man to bring us the remake of Psycho, surely not because he was passionate about it, but because someone would, inevitably, do it. Why not, then? Do it. Get it out of the way before someone else does. Robert Zemeckis must have thought that when taking on Beowulf as an animated action horror. What a miserable blend. An uncoordinated experience that sees a showcase of horribly defined animation and special effects.
Everyone is animated to look vaguely like the actor portraying them. Tom Hooper would have an issue with this over a decade later when adapting Cats for the big screen. It is not what Zemeckis does here that is to be questioned, but why he does so. The Polar Express was solid cannon fodder for children and those needing nostalgia, but the prose and beauty of Beowulf needs a bit more to it than a style that looks like Shrek the Third. That is rather rude to Chris Miller and Mike Myers, for at least they depend on the oddly unrefined animation style. It is all part of the charm, and does not fit the Ray Winstone and John Malkovich led tale of a hero taking on a beast from beyond the distant valleys.
Its action leaves much to be desired, and considering Beowulf relies on this to bring villainous Grendel (Crispin Glover) to life, Zemeckis can do nothing but toil around with the ageing tools before him. While Grendel may look disgusting and disfigured, so too do Anthony Hopkins and Robin Wright. They look like they have been moulded out of cheap plastic, and by the looks of Zemeckis’ other projects with this animation style, that is the aim of his efforts. Winstone, while looking nothing like his animated counterpart, does give a surprisingly strong performance. His gritty nature and hard-cut accent work tremendously well. It all goes so well before the emotionless face unhinges his draw and bellows a scream towards Brendan Gleeson. Beowulf likely had poor animation upon its release, but looking at it in the cold, unremitting light of the modern-day, the problems are unavoidable and difficult to overcome, especially when the story is adapted with such a lacking sincerity.
Zemeckis has the name value to not kill off his career with these later projects, but he is cutting it close. Welcome to Marwen should surely have been the end of this long and arching career. Had it not been there, then Beowulf, with its horrifying animation and truly nightmare-inducing performances, would have been the end for Zemeckis. It probably should have been. Nothing could possibly be worse than seeing an animated, balding Hopkins scream for mead. Beowulf’s biggest sin is its animation, which has aged poorly. But that is no fault of the performers. It would help if the performances were better, though. The eponymous role is fine, and while Winstone strives for more than amicability, he never meets it, for Beowulf cannot shake the fairy-tale feeling it offers. Probably because it looks like Shrek the Third.