The irony inherent in using 21st-century motion-control technology to tell a tale approximately 1,400-years old is just one of many bizarrely entertaining aspects of Beowulf. But the pinnacle of weirdness in Robert Zemeckis' ecstatically bombastic 3-D film adaptation of the first known Anglo-Saxon prose poem is watching Crispin Glover, as the monster Grendel, drool ropy strings of saliva on the queen while muttering in actual, if incomprehensible, Old English. Forget Zemeckis - this is sublimely surreal David Lynch territory.
This version of Beowulf takes some liberties, ricocheting between thrilling, heroic and hilarious. But it's as faithful to the original as it needs to be. The story tells of the titular hero (Ray Winstone) and his band of merry Norsemen, who arrive in King Hrothgar's (Anthony Hopkins) troubled Danish kingdom to slay Grendel. Looking something like Robert De Niro's patchwork Frankenstein monster with leprosy, Grendel has of late taken to turning up every time the randy, rowdy Danes throw a party. It falls to Beowulf to slay the monster, which he does, in the nude, with his fleshly battle staff concealed by various foregrounded objects. And then, as so often happens in films featuring naked, animated British actors, things get really freaky.
Beowulf is crackerjack popcorn entertainment. The 3-D effects are jaw-droppingly realistic, but thanks to the witty, zippy script, they never detract from the story. The sticking point, for many people, will be Zemeckis' reliance on the still-imperfect technique of motion-control animation, which exhibits a certain Shrek-iness when it comes to such complex, expressive textures as the human face. Then again, the technique allows one hell of a dragon.