Robert Zemeckis, maker of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and Forrest Gump, once again employs state-of-the-art cinematic technologies to render the first of the ancient myths written in English into a classic of popular culture. All the human figures in the film have been digitally enhanced. Neil Gaiman is on the writing staff. Set in 507 AD, the action opens in the riotous mead hall of Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins). Grendel, an odious troll, bursts on the scene, looking like a monstrous and oozing version of Gollum. His murderous rampage is graphic and sickening. There is talk of appealing to the new savior, Jesus, but Hrothgar prefers the protection of Odin. Ray Winstone is well cast as the powerful hero, Beowulf, arriving on a ship to kill the monster plaguing the realm of Hrothgar. He sleeps in the nude. Grendel returns that very night bent on more havoc. A naked Beowulf does battle with the shrieking monster, tearing off his arm. Grendel goes to his cave to die in the arms of his mother, who is heard but not seen. The blond princess (Robin Wright Penn) is to be the prize for the victorious hero.
Grendel’s mother puts her son to rest and flies to the mead hall to avenge the death of her son. While Beowulf sleeps, she kills everyone in the hall and hangs the corpses from the rafters. Hrothgar informs Beowulf that the mother is the last of the demons and when she is vanquished the world will be safe. The hero sets off to do what he must. In a watery cave he finds her (Angelina Jolie) naked and with a golden sheen like one of those chromium women popular in computer graphics. Her feet are formed into spike heels. She attempts to seduce the hero. The scene shifts abruptly to the mead hall where Beowulf brags of his second victory. Hrothgar is suspicious when he sees that the hero has brought back no trophy, and has a guilty look. Despite his misgivings, Hrothgar bequeaths his kingdom to Beowulf. John Malkovich is a skeptical and resentful lord who questions the judgment of the King. Hrothgar walks to the battlements by the sea and hurls himself to his death. Malkovich delivers Beowulf the crown. The great king ages quickly and begins to resemble a gray-bearded Hulk Hogan. He grows weary of constant battles. Mummers enact tales of his exploits in the hall. Malkovich turns up, old and wizened, with evidence that Grendel’s mother is not dead. When a dragon begins to ravage the villages of the kingdom, the hero must once again strap on his battle gear. He finds the V-shaped entrance and enters her cave. She looks like a sleek hood ornament at first but transforms into the huge and fearsome dragon. Beowulf gives chase and it gets silly; looks like old Harryhausen special effects. After an epic contest with the great serpent, he rips out its heart. His wounds are mortal, however, and he dies on the beach. His body is sent out to sea on a fiery ship. Suitable words are spoken on the shore. The mast of the ship becomes a burning cross and as it sinks, and a nude Angelina falls on the body of the hero. She surfaces again to let it be known that she will always be in the shadows to lure men to their doom. See also Beowulf & Grendel (2005).