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Blu-Ray : Recommended
Release Date: March 18th, 2007 Movie Release Year: 2007

Beowulf: Director's Cut (UK Import)

Overview -
Rating Breakdown
Tech Specs & Release Details
Technical Specs:
Region A, B, C
Video Resolution/Codec:
Aspect Ratio(s):
Audio Formats:
Italian Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
Dutch Subtitles
Special Features:
Additional Scenes
Release Date:
March 18th, 2007

Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take


Blame it on the dusty literature degree in my closet or my lingering love of epic poems, but "Beowulf" remains one of my favorite tales. Its characters are simple and its monsters abhorrently evil, but its language is ethereal despite its brutality. So it was with great trepidation and excitement that I tromped out to the theater to see director Robert Zemeckis' computer animated adaptation. Sure, I wanted more characterization than the ancient poem provided, but I still wanted to see a certain faithfulness to the original text. Honestly, I had lofty expectations.

When a lavish banquet is interrupted by a murderous beast named Grendel (voiced by Crispin Glover), King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins) seals the blood-soaked dining hall and offers half the gold in his kingdom to any hero who can kill the monster. Answering this call to arms, a legendary hero named Beowulf (Ray Winstone) arrives and slays the creature. The kingdom celebrates, until the monster's mother, a sultry, aquatic demon (Angelina Jolie), descends and kills Beowulf's men. The hero then sets out for revenge, ultimately discovering more than he anticipated in the cavernous dwelling of the siren.

After Beowulf returns with word that Grendel and its mother have been slain, Hrothgar declares that, upon his death, Beowulf should be crowned king and marry the Queen (Robin Wright-Penn). The film then jumps decades into the future, revealing Beowulf as king of a very prosperous kingdom. Unfortunately, mistakes from Beowulf's past come back to haunt him as a fire dragon begins to ravage the countryside. Beowulf has to muster his strength and fight another monster to preserve his legacy and save his kingdom.

Sound simple? Believe me, it's not. Writers Roger Avery and Neil Gaiman make several fascinating departures from the classic text, uniting the punctuated vignettes of the original epic by making Beowulf into the flawed hero in a classic tragedy. Grendel's family tree, Beowulf's encounter with Grendel's mother, and the origins of the fire dragon have been drastically changed. More importantly, Beowulf is no longer a confident braggart, but rather a man wrapped in his own lies and exaggerations. He seems to believe he won't be respected if his tale isn't grand enough, and seem to resort to deception more often than the creatures he so mercilessly dispatches. Surprisingly, these changes work extremely well, allowing the filmmakers to deconstruct Beowulf as a character while exploring the contrast between truth and legend.

Unlike the grim and gritty realist take on the poem found in 'Beowulf & Grendel,' Zemeckis expands the fantastical elements of the story even further -- Grendel is now a tormented behemoth, his mother is a seductive siren, and the fire dragon is a shape-shifting demon with revenge in his heart. Even so, these alterations never neuter the beasts, but rather make them more threatening than they've been before. Grendel's rage is no longer animalistic, his mother's attack isn't a simplistic response, and the fire dragon isn't merely a creature of chance.

If anything, Zemeckis's 'Beowulf' manages to fill in the gaps that have allowed people to peg this epic poem as an irrelevant tale of mythological heroes and monsters. By deftly humanizing the protagonists and antagonists, the struggles between the men and monsters have a lasting psychological relevance. As such, the story becomes an allegory for the misunderstandings and miscommunications that have plagued real-world conflicts throughout history. 'Beowulf' emerges as a tale of pride that forces a seemingly impervious hero to come to terms with his own fallacies and inadequacies. Each time Beowulf is confronted by the truth of his decisions, his face reflects his shame. His ability to overcome that shame makes his actions more heroic than if he were simply portrayed as a classic mythological hero.

Unfortunately, I still have a few major issues with specific design hiccups that yanked me out of the experience. To start, Grendel's final look just doesn't sit well with me. I appreciate the representation of unbearable suffering in his gnarled form, but I think his rubbery face and clumsy strides rob his attacks of their sheer horror. More troublesome are several 'Austin Power'-style gags Zemeckis uses to cloak Beowulf's nudity in his fight with Grendel -- a dropped sword, a cloud of smoke, and plenty of conveniently placed forearms are cheap and laughable tricks that interrupt the tone of the film. If Beowulf decides to face Grendel's mother in a pair of boxer-briefed loincloths, why resort to comical cover-ups in the hero's showdown with Grendel?

Worst of all, Zemeckis' motion captured faces lack the nuanced expressiveness of his cast's live-action performances. Robin Wright-Penn is more haunting and effective in person, Anthony Hopkins uses his eyes more than the animators could capture, and Ray Winstone imbues Beowulf with more visual vulnerability than the stoic hero who appears on screen. I found myself growing more and more disenchanted with the animation -- by the end of the film, it was clear that Zemeckis's vision would have been better realized if 'Beowulf' had been shot as a live action epic in the vein of 'The Lord of the Rings.'

'Beowulf' isn't a perfect film by any means, but it is an exceptionally interesting retelling of a classic epic poem. I really found myself getting into the complexities of the tale and the manner in which Avery and Gaiman reworked the central characters. Zemeckis's computer animation techniques still have a long way to go before he can capture all of the facial subtleties of live-action performances, but the CGI does provides plenty of thrilling action scenes and battle sequences. In the end, 'Beowulf' is as flawed as its hero, but it's still worth the investment of your time.

Note that this Blu-ray import contains the "Director's Cut" of 'Beowulf.' It's the same length as the theatrical cut, but packs in a noticeably elevated level of blood and gore. Personally, I prefer the "Director's Cut" simply because it doesn't pull as many punches, but it doesn't make a significant difference in the story itself. Also worth mentioning is the fact that this release is not packaged in a standard US slimcase, but a chunky UK case. However, anyone who's imported a Blu-ray Disc from the UK before shouldn't be surprised by the difference.

Video Review


'Beowulf' featured the last jaw-dropping HD DVD video transfer released in the States and, to Paramount's credit, earned an easy five stars from me. Thankfully, the film's handoff to Warner Brothers (which owns the rights to distribute 'Beowulf' in the UK) hasn't affected the quality of the picture in the slightest.

Straight from the digital source, Warner's UK Blu-ray release matches Paramount's excellent domestic efforts with a bold, crisp 1080p/VC-1 transfer that, like the US HD DVD edition, is practically flawless. The palette simmers with warm golds and soft oranges, leaving skintones intentionally bronzed in firelight and looking quite naturalistic beneath cloudy skies. The colors are never overwhelming, but lend a certain otherworldliness to the creatures that fill the tale. Contrast is dead on and blacks are deep without leaving much to the imagination -- Hrothgar's dark kingdom is teeming with subtle details in the shadows, and delineation is exactly as I remember it in the theater. Want to be impressed? Skip to the scene where Grendel's mother confronts Beowulf and scan the corpses and trinkets discarded throughout the cave. Pay particular attention to the individual, phosphorescent dots in the water that shoot outward with each of the hero's steps. Then head for the fire dragon attack and note the individual scales, the teeth, and the crumbling debris from the castle walls.

Best of all, artifacting, noise, and compression issues don't hijack the proceedings. I did notice a bit of banding that I didn't catch on the domestic HD DVD, but I'm going to chalk it up to minor differences between my HD and BD players. Honestly, the infrequent bands were so inconspicuous that they hardly deserve a mention. All in all, this is a spectacular, reference quality transfer that makes for a great demo disc. This import is a no-brainer for fans who can't wait for 'Beowulf' to be announced for release on Blu-ray in the US.

Audio Review


Unbelievable. I was already struck with awe by the amazing Dolby Digital Plus track Paramount included on the domestic HD DVD release of 'Beowulf,' but Warner Brothers stops the show with a lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround mix that's, quite frankly, a sonic revelation.

Everything else is just as impressive as it was on the domestic HD DVD. Dynamics literally shake the room with powerful LFE support, booming low-end thooms, and crystal clear treble tones. From the opening credits, the '300'-esque soundtrack hit me square in the chest and refused to relent -- by the time Beowulf found himself fighting sea monsters in the midst of a storm, I was convinced this mix could do no wrong. Rear support was shockingly aggressive and provided some of the most involving immersive qualities I've encountered in a soundfield. Listen to Grendel's initial attack -- soldiers are flung across the room, chairs shatter and skitter across the floor, and the creature's screams echo around the hall perfectly. Better still, head for the scene in which the fire dragon attacks and pay attention to his thunderous wings, the roar of his flames, and the cries of his victims.

To top it all off, dialogue was crystal clear and nicely prioritized within the chaos. I didn't have problems deciphering lines or instinctually understanding the placement of every object and character in the soundfield. This is a reference quality track through and through, and bests the majority of audio mixes on the high-def market.

Special Features


This Blu-ray import includes most of the standard features that appear on the domestic HD DVD and DVD releases of 'Beowulf.' As it stands, the only non-exclusive supplement that's missing in action is the film's theatrical trailer. Still, it's not a huge loss when you consider the remaining features are presented in high definition.

  • A Hero's Journey: The Making of Beowulf (HD, 24 minutes) -- This intriguing featurette begins as Zemeckis introduces the cast to the motion capture studio. He explains the technology, the interactive objects, and the process they should expect with the shoot. From there, a group of fly-on-the-wall cameras follow Winstone and crew as the motion capture devices are applied to their faces, as they interact on set, and as they experience Zemeckis's shooting method for the first time. The featurette even documents visits from writer (and comics legend) Neil Gaiman, actor Tom Hanks, and a few other surprise guests. The film's cast members are incredibly amicable in spite of the challenges and frustrations presented by the abnormal shoot and I found myself laughing quite a few times. This is an excellent behind-the-scenes featurette that thoroughly explores every aspect of the pre-animated production.
  • Deleted Scenes (HD, 12 minutes) -- A collection of cuts, most of which are presented as unfinished animatics. I don't think any of the cuts would have enhanced the film or the story, but it's tough to tell when the animation hasn't been completed.
  • The Origins of Beowulf (HD, 5 minutes) -- Writers Roger Avery and Neil Gaiman join Zemeckis in a discussion of the original story and their adaptation. They talk about the changes they made from the early text, the inferences they made about Grendel's family tree (as well as the origin of the fire dragon), and a major change they brought to Beowulf's encounter with Grendel's mother.
  • The Art of Beowulf (HD, 5 minutes) -- I really enjoyed this detailed look at the art direction in the film. It explores the sketches, concept art, models, color tests, and historical research that led to Beowulf's stylized palette.
  • Beasts of Burden: Designing the Creatures of Beowulf (HD, 7 minutes) -- Artist interviews, concept art, storyboards, and animatics are brought together to explore the creation of the sea serpents, the mermaid, Grendel, his mother, and the fire dragon. This featurette blazes by rather quickly, but it's certainly worth your time. It reveals just enough details to give a nice overview of the majority of the creature design decisions used in the film.
  • Creating the Ultimate Beowulf (HD, 2 minutes) -- This featurette finally answers why Ray Winstone was cast in the film if Zemeckis's hero was meant to look like a completely different person. It's a bit too short, but it answers most of the questions I had and continues to make me appreciate the director's ultimate goals with his motion capture endeavors.

Final Thoughts

'Beowulf: The Director's Cut' is a thrilling animated actioner that expands the classic tale with intriguing additions to the story and the characters. Zemeckis's changes may not always work as intended, but the film soars more often than it stumbles. But regardless of your take on the film itself, this Blu-ray import is definitely worth your attention. It not only features a stunning transfer that matches the five-star domestic HD DVD, it ups the ante with a TrueHD mix that sounds amazing. The only downside is that a trio of major exclusive features from the domestic HD DVD didn't make the cut. Still, fans who can't wait for Paramount to announce a domestic Blu-ray release of 'Beowulf' should be more than pleased with this UK import. In my opinion, the results are worth the additional cost.