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Beowulf (DVD)

Starring: Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins, John Malkovich, Brendan Gleeson, Robin Wright Penn and... Angelina Jolie wearing nothing but a thick coat of gold paint and a tail.

Rated: 12.

Story: Long ago in Scandinavia, a hero takes on all-comers in the pursuit of honour, glory and inappropriate women. He becomes seduced by his own publicity. Disaster ensues. He takes his frustration out on a passing dragon.

Comments: Just when I'd given up hope of ever getting to watch a proper superhero, one pops out of the Dark Ages to yell loudly in my ear, swim faster than a speeding sea-serpent and leap tall monsters with a single bound... sometimes naked, simply for the hell of it.

Beowulf revels in his own heroics. He jumps around smiting things. On a good day, he uses his momentum from smacking one creature about to vault straight onto another. There's no dilemma over who he really is; no quandaries over a secret identity. "I am Beowulf!" he roars at every available opportunity.

He is flawed and ultimately miserable but he doesn't let this get in the way of whacking enormous monsters with sharp, pointy things... or ripping them apart with his bare hands.

They don't tell stories about heroes like this any more.

Not that they ever did, actually. Beowulf the computer-animated movie takes plenty of liberties with Beowulf the Old English epic poem. Most notably, it works on the premise that Beowulf's own uncorroborated account of his battle with Grendel's Mother is somewhat embroidered. (Translation: He's lying through his teeth.) This brings a tragic element to events and paints Beowulf far more darkly. Personally, I think the concept works well, producing a modern structure while preserving the fantastical nature of events. I suspect some people will be annoyed, though.

Sadly, a few bizarre design choices and technical difficulties stop the film from meeting its full potential.

The rendering of inanimate objects is spectacular but, as ever, the people appear less impressive. It's simply much harder to make pictures of people look real than it is to make a castle look convincing. This isn't helped by some wooden animation in places. Suspension of disbelief is easier, however, where the characters in the film closely resemble the real life actors doing the voices. Unfortunately, Beowulf looks nothing like Ray Winstone. I found the disparity between face and voice jarring for most of the film.

There are some occasional Old English words to add a touch of historical colour but often they make the dialogue hard to follow. The accent of the monster Grendel is such that his speech is difficult to make out at all. It's also off-putting that one of the characters has been made overtly Christian for no particular reason and yet his motivation varies unsympathetically between dubious and unfathomable.

The weirdest moment, though, is where Beowulf removes all his armour to make his fight fair with the unarmed Grendel. You would have thought a loincloth or something wouldn't have been too much of an advantage. But no... There follows an unintentionally hilarious sequence of discretely placed elbows and swords to protect Beowulf's modesty. I can only imagine what the giggle factor was like in the IMAX 3D version...

Still, the tale is well told and enthralling. The plentiful action sequences are superb. If you can forgive the rough edges and don't mind the alterations from the original, it's an epic adventure.

Beowulf makes short work of beating Spider-Man to a pulp before pulling its legs off.

Conclusion: At last! A proper superhero movie!

Explosions: None (unless you count fiery dragon breath).
Silly costumes involving wearing underpants on the outside: None.
Underpants in general: Not quite enough.
Tedious angst: Mercifully brief.
Monster smiting: Plenty.

Rating: 4/5.

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