'Beowulf: Return To The Shieldlands'
(Kieran Bew, William Hurt, Joanne Whalley, Edward Speleers, David Ajala, et al / 4-DVD / NR / 2016 / PBS)
Overview: This spectacular drama reimagines one of literature's most enduring heroes, the great warrior Beowulf. Featuring an ensemble cast of fascinating and fantastical characters, this epic drama follows Beowulf as he strives to be a man as well as hero, challenging the notions of good and evil, heroes and villains, and the rule of law against one's moral code.
DVD Verdict: Comparison inevitably will be made to 'The Vikings', since these shows walk on the same genre. However, 'Beowulf: Return To The Shieldlands' is the more casual of the two, using special effect and colorful scenery for broader demographic; a bit like the animation from years earlier only without CG Angelina Jolie.
This direction is fine though, in my book, for not all recent works must be brooding and gritty, although Beowulf suffers from erratic shifts in plot as well as a few dubious displays of mythical creatures; sorry, but it has to be said!
The story line, as is, opens with Beowulf (Kieran Bew, Da Vinci's Demons) having spent many years wandering as a mercenary warrior, returning to the mythical Shieldlands to pay his respects to the recently deceased Thane Hrothgar (William Hurt, Captain America: Civil War). When Herot is attacked by a terrifying monster, Beowulf has no choice by to hunt it down, winning favor with the new Thane Rheda (Joanne Whalley, Wolf Hall) and the wider community, in the process.
Thus, now in a place of spectacle and danger populated by both humans and fantastical creatures, Beowulf begins a journey that sees the mighty and capable man slowly reconnect with the notion of family and home.
It is noticeable that the story pushes the titular Beowulf into many tribulations from the first steps. Unfortunately, this sets up too many subplots at the same time. Characters are being murdered, betrayed and chased even before any connection could be made to any of them, which presents a couple of strange seemingly rushed developments. It also tries to present some mystery and political struggle, but these aspects lack depth since they have to share the scene with many other angles like childhood memories or shoehorned romance.
Much of the resources evidently went to costume and setting. The attires these characters don are incredibly polished, certainly different yet appreciated fashion from typical medieval series. Its surroundings are fairly gorgeous as well, colorful both in human settlement and natural landscape. If any flaws should come from this eye-catching presentation, it's that the characters look a tad too modern for the era.
CG effect is a toss-up, some scenes look terribly crude while few others look very meticulous. At its best, the display of creature is presentable, having decent features and surprising detail on fur or beastly motion. On the other hand, when it falters, it further weakens the immersion since the human characters already react unconvincingly to inorganic monsters.
In conclusion, 'Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands' is a light excursion for wider audience with more colorful presentation, although the cumbersome plot and sloppy CG might undermine that effort. That's not to poo-poo it, because Beowulf is, overall, a fine 4 disc CGI wonderment that, if you have the 10 hours plus to invest, won't disappoint those who wish to believe. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.