What happens when an ancient epic poem becomes a fully computer-animated movie? You get Beowulf, a decent reinvention of what may be the oldest English work ever.

It's 507 A.D. and something is indeed rotten in the state of Denmark. King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins) is a merry old ruler, interested in celebrating and partying with his subjects -- and his reluctant wife, Wealthow (Robin Wright Penn). An attack by the giant, hideous monster Grendel (Crispin Glover) throws the kingdom into turmoil, leading Hrothgar to offer great rewards to a hero who can slay the monster.

Enter Beowulf (Ray Winstone) and his faithful companion Wiglaf (Brendan Gleeson), who braved a storm to gain glory by slaying the monster. Beowulf is a combination of braggart and hero, ready to exaggerate his victories while also proving a mighty warrior. His weakness is for women, which is a problem when faced with Grendel's Mother (Angelina Jolie), a sinister and slightly alien seductive demon.

This Beowulf is not the classic poem; as director Robert Dimeckis notes in the dvd commentary, "It's all about eating, drinking, fighting and fornicating." Beowulf certainly delivers when it comes to fighting, as the hero battles sea monsters, the horrid Grendel, and a giant dragon -- all of which are wonderfully rendered with cgi. (The same is true, in a very different fashion, for Grendel's Mother, clearly based on Jolie herself.)

Beowulf falters with its humans. While this movie's monsters are very impressive, the cgi humans looks like artificial creations from a 1990s video game. This is a shame, considering the voice talent is excellent, from Hopkins' regal and tired king to Wistone's hero that is aware of his flaws. And Angelina Jolie is literally irrestible here, with her evil yet captivating voice.

Screenwriters Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary do a good job adapting this very long classic poem to a movie-length time, and the story holds together pretty well. I just wish that Beowulf didn't have such an artificial look to it. (Dvd extras include making-of features (including the actors working in extensive sensor-detecting devices), slightly unfinished extra scenes, and lots of background on the story and art.)

Overall grade: C
Reviewed by James Lynch

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