Being a Noggin the Nog fan at 6, I naturally warmed to the Beowulf saga as a teen. Plus I enjoyed John Gardner's 'Grendel' novel as a student, where the Beowulf story is retold from Grendel's perspective: "His mother is totally incommunicative. In fact, his only real friends are the Danes he kills. Still, he knows he is dependent on Hrothgar's survival. If I murdered the last of the Scyldings, he muses, what would I live for?".
When I found out the writer of the book 'Stardust' was helping to produce two movies, 'Stardust' and 'Beowulf', I knew I had to see them at the cinema. I took my son (11) to see both ('Stardust' was great). However, although my son enjoyed the film (well the two main action bits anyway), I did feel Beowulf was rather violent for just a 12 rating - this is one of the few films where I was actually shocked at one point. Beowulf fights Grendel without any clothes to prevent his armour hindering him, and there are articles placed about the mead hall that conveniently hide any obviously male bits from the viewer - and this overt coyness irritatingly distracts you from the horror that's unfolding - i.e. Grendel's attack (after that Beowulf faces Grendel's mother in a loin cloth - not that he needed it then). When Grendel breaks in to the banqueting hall, looking frankly a bit too decayingly revolting, he proceeds to bite off the heads of the hapless Dane warriors and spray them up the wall (but that apparently isn't as disturbing as a PC generated male figure in the buff - although even the Crazy Frog was anatomically correct on kids TV, and Bart Simpson for that matter). Granted my son didn't seem perturbed by the graphic violence, but a 12 rating can bring in kids of any age with their dads. It doesn't look quite so shocking on the small screen via DVD, but be warned if your young preteen sons want to watch this movie (I found this aspect slightly worse than similarly 12 rated King Kong, also a great movie otherwise). However for a 9+ audience all should be fine, and on the big screen this film is probably less disturbing for little ones than PG rated Jurassic Park.
Otherwise I loved the movie (other than wishing Grendel had inherited his mothers, fathers and step-brothers good looks). The change to the story and Grendel's family tree/mothers fate was fine (it made Beowulf more vulnerable and so an even greater hero in overcoming his shame to defeat the avenging fire dragon). The mix of accents didn't worry me (who wants a Danish `allo allo', and Beowulf and Hrothgar are from very different settlements anyway, being born in Sweden and Denmark respectively). Plus Anthony Hopkins [Hrothgar], Brendan Gleeson [Wiglaf], Angelina Jolie [Grendel's mum] and John Malkavich [Unferth] provide superb support for Ray Winstone's Beowulf. The PC animation was pretty good if a little stilted occasionally, and I could certainly see the attraction of Grendel's mother (killing her looked a heck of lot harder). Perhaps I would have preferred a live action `Conan the Barbarian' style version, as much of the fighting and monsters would have been the same CGI anyway, but I was impressed with Beowulf the great Nordic warrior, he cut a believable tough heroic figure and the film evoked well the tragedy of his plight as he goes from hero to zero, and back again. Besides, any Beowulf is better than nothing and this was a good stab at the story. The original poem is a long slog anyway, but worth scanning through - you can find it on the web for free. Also try Gardner's Grendel, and Seamus Heaneys poetical interpretation `Beowulf' (it's more than a translation and has the original alongside to compare). The original Beowulf isn't impossible to read, and rather like Mallory's Morte d'Arthur it puts you closer to those of the era if you read it as written down.
I didn't actually notice much had changed in the director's cut other than the fight scenes are noticeably more gory than the movie release, but this doesn't actually detract from the film at all and does add a bit more gritty realism - after all Grendel and his mum are the stuff of nightmares. However those watching with their sons might opt for the standard release. As usual I haven't watched the extras yet, other than the `making off' which was interesting, showing how the live actors helped the CGI movements - and it made you wish the actors were in the film when you see every nuance of their real facial expressions. But otherwise a pretty good movie. Also check out the scary age-15-rated SciFi movie take on Beowulf/Grendel: 'Outlander', released in 2008, that very effectively mixes CGI and live action.