“This is not the Beowulf you read back at school!” rants director Robert Zemeckis. “It’s all about killing and fornication!” It’s actually more about pointless techno-noodling – a specky, keyboard-hugging castration of the Old English epic poem that everyone loves to pretend they hate. The eye-catching cast surely signed up as cheerleaders for version two of the ropey rotoscoping that Zemeckis pioneered in The Polar Express. But blustering Bob has spent so much time geeking over 3D gimmicks, he hasn’t bothered with the tiresome business of sourcing a decent script, gelling the narrative or drawing emotion from the characters.
The story (Beowulf kills the monstrous Grendel and then has to tackle yummy mummy, Mrs Grendel) hobbles along, swollen by sterile, videogamey swoops and pans. Some scenes are lavish and rousing (Grendel’s first attack, Beowulf’s storm-lashed arrival), while others feel dashed off and undercooked.
Character design is equally fickle. Beowulf (Ray Winstone) looks like a genetic mash-up of Sean Bean and Viggo Mortensen, Grendel’s Mum (Angelina Jolie) is a primordial porn-star, the slimy Unferth (John Malkovich) looks like the victim of a stag-night Botox prank and the Queen (Robin Wright Penn) just looks a bit ill... In pushing for both real and unreal, Beowulf ends up plain surreal. Sure, push the technology, but not at the expense of trusted traditions.
The double-disc’s interminable, flickering-monitor featurettes are pure distraction: a taut texture-map of computer fibs laid over the flabby truth… This is fancy-dress fantasy: all style, no soul.