By Nisha Gopalan
July 26, 2007 at 12:00 PM EDT

First exclusive peek out of San Diego’s Comic-Con: Robert Zemeckis’ Beowulf. If you aren’t familiar, this is the motion-capture CGI film based on the dark Anglo-Saxon epic about a mercenary named Beowulf (Sexy Beast‘s Ray Winstone, pictured at left, with Anthony Hopkins) who sets out to unleash all kinds of kick-assery on the bloodthirsty Grendel, a monster that’s been terrorizing the kingdom. The movie’s November release should come as awesome news to teens, who’re subjected to reading the sometimes inscrutable Old English poem in high school lit class. It’ll also be awesome for said adolescents because Angelina Jolie appears in various states of nakedtude by way of the movie’s photo-realistic animation style. Did we also mention it’s also in 3D?

Screenwriters Roger Avary (Killing Zoe, Pulp Fiction) and comics demigod Neil Gaiman (The Sandman, Stardust) introduced the teaser, trailer, and 20 minutes of “reel 2” footage with this warning: “You’ll feel like you’re coming down from an acid trip.” And after slipping on our Elvis Costello-ish 3D specs we were treated to the following images:

  • A spectacularly six-packed Beowulf one-upping the lads of 300 by going into battle in his birthday suit… and without a weapon. Another possible nod to 300: a stark scene featuring a bunch of arrows flying in the sky.
  • Grendel looking like a dead-ringer for Lord of the Ring‘s Gollum. This creature also talks sorta funny: He’s the only character in Beowulf who speaks in Old English.
  • A gruesome scene in which dead human warriors, like pieces of eviscerated meat slabs, hang upside down from rafters.
  • SPOILER ALERT if you never did your homework: AngelinaJolie’s clothing-challenged hottie demon mama putting the moves onBeowulf after he killed her son Grendel. (Don’t judge. We all grieve inown ways.) This time, B. has a sword, which literally melts as they’retotally making out. Wonder if that’s a metaphor for something…

Gaiman and Avary laughed about how despite the carnal and carnage,they’re shooting for a PG-13. Then they stopped laughing and clarifiedthat no, really, they ARE shooting for a PG-13. (Random aside: The twoare now working to bring Charles Burns’ creepy-in-a-good-way comic-bookBlack Hole — an EW pick for one of 2005’s best — to the big screen.)

But at $1 million per second (at least, that’s the far-fetched figure Gaiman and Avary claimed), is Beowulf a total improvement over director Robert Zemeckis’ last (mis)adventure in motion-capture, the lifeless Polar Express? Reaction was mixed: Beowulfwas a vastly better — notably in the look and expressions of AnthonyHopkins’ character, the king — but such progress was spotty, provingthat ultimately Zemeckis has yet to slay his own demon: stiff-lookingcharacters.