Director Robert Zemeckis seems hell bent on his parallel career in motion capture CGI movies which use the movements of real actors as their source, rather than the skills of animators, to render his lead characters. Fortunately, in the years between Beowulf and The Polar Express, the quality has improved and so the human characters are a bit less creepy, even if they are tumbling noisily into the uncanny valley - that level of realism in the rendering of a humanoid which is 99% of the way there, but with occasional ticks that give away their unreality. The result is more distracting than those clearly not meant to be an entirely realistic representation (those in the marvellous Ratatouille or Incredibles for example). What makes it worse here is that half the CGI actors in Beowulf look like their real life vocalists, notably Anthony Hopkins and Angelina Jolie while some, in particular the titular hero (long blond hair, a body that Michelangelo's David would weep over and the firmest buttocks you're likely to see in a non-specialist cinema), portrayed vocally by Ray Winstone, looks nothing like the actor. Indeed, we should be rather grateful given the amount of time he spends fighting in the nude. Still, pleasing that they didn't change the story from the original legend much to have him fight more suitably attired, even if the results are a bit Austin Powers in execution as crucial body parts are miraculously concealed behind props and bits of the set - yes, even in this liberal age, we're still too prurient to see a naked man, even in an entirely non-sexual context. Still, think of what might happen to children who see someone naked at the cinema, probably the end of the civilization as we know it (assuming Simon Cowell hasn't instigated it already).
Of course, being a Zemeckis film, Alan Silvestri is along for the ride at the scoring stage. I was rather surprised at the harshness of my Polar Express review (particularly the curmudgeonly rating) as it's a very entertaining score. Then again, I am lucky enough to have the promo version with considerably more underscore than the original release, which no doubt helps immeasurably. However, Beowulf has a perfectly proportioned soundtrack release. One rather feels Silvestri peaked a few years ago and many of his scores seem to follow on the coat tails of more famous efforts. As Van Helsing followed the superb Mummy Returns, so Beowulf follows Van Helsing. In fairness, Beowulf is more varied and interesting than his effort for Stephen Sommer's misconceived Dracula movie and aided immeasurably by a memorable main theme, with just the right amount of Nordic heraldry thrown in for good measure. Its initial appearance in the Main Title isn't quite what one might expect, bedded with synths and electric guitar, it's not a good start. Fortunately, this isn't a sign of things to come and First Grendel Attack fits the bill of thunderous, well conceived Silvestri action scoring. There is plenty more where that came from, the second attack, naturally, plus I Did Not Win the Race (another of those track titles that makes more sense in the film itself) and the spectacular final blowout as Beowulf Slays the Beast. Not ground breaking, but Silvestri does this kind of thing as well as anyone, indeed, he probably does it better.
The lighter side is most notable in the two songs performed by Robin Wright-Penn which, to be fair, produced some titters from the audience I was with. Going from a naked blond man slaying a hideous monster to a woman singing along to a plucked harp in that quasi-Shakespearean mode is a bit hard to stomach. Nice songs, but the difference in style is perhaps a touch jarring given the general modernity of the harmonic language. Then again, the orchestral arrangement of Gently As She Goes, in Full of Fine Promises, is superb and the rock anthem version of A Hero Comes Home for the end credits just about tolerable. Grendel's mother (whose role is different and, for my money, actually far more interesting than in the original legend), gets a beautifully chilling melody, presaged by a simple echoing acoustic guitar figure, best heard in The Seduction, but also reprised in The Final Seduction. Maybe having been too harsh on The Polar Express I'm more inclined to be positive about Beowulf which has received fairly mediocre reviews. However, I'd almost go so far to say that Silvestri makes a good case for following in the rather large footsteps of Jerry Goldsmith, at least when it comes to his 90's and 00's scoring (13th Warrior and so forth), being both thematically memorable, exciting in all the right places, while offering some perfectly fine gentler material which manages to hold its own alongside the bombast. Not a classic by any means, but too thoroughly entertaining to pass up.