'Beowulf and Grendel'
Category: Beowulf & Grendel Reviews | Posted by: admin
Article Date: March 7, 2006 | Publication: Monsters and Critics | Author: Anne Brodie
Starring Gerard Butler, Sarah Polley, Stellan Skarsgård and Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson as Grendel
Directed by Sturla Gunnarsson
We are about to swamped with Beowulf films, in the same way we were inundated with Robin Hood outings a while back and other cluster films since.
An idea virus seems to take hold of the film industry occasionally and studios line up to release their versions of the same story with just enough space between to be tolerable.
Usually the brave indie company is first, unencumbered by the Byzantine workings of the big money boys and girls, followed by the major studio once someone else has tested the waters, followed in turn by the animated children s version, and subsequently, comics and computer games.
The current idea virus is Beowulf, the epic poem hero. He is the mythic monster and dragon slayer of the Old English epic poem, the first written story. It concerns the great, or Swedish, hero who frees Daneland from its enemies, including the troll / demon / descendant of Cain, named Grendel around 400 AD.
The Anglos and Saxons of Scandinavia eventually found their way to England and brought with them the Beowulf legend, which was written out sometime between 700 and 1000 AD.
Canadian / Icelandic filmmaker Gunnarsson is first to the finish line, presenting his film Beowulf and Grendel last September at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Two more films will be released in 2007, a low-budget indie outing called Beowulf: Prince of the Geats and Robert Zemeckis Beowulf making its imprint as a captured animation film featuring Anthony Hopkins, John Malkovich and the voice of Angelina Jolie. Ralph Fiennes narrated an animated TV series in 1998 and Antonio Banderas The 13th Warrior was loosely based on the myth.
Gunnarsson s film focuses on Beowulf s first heroic quest to kill the monster Grendel, who massacred twenty of King Hrothgar s men in their sleep. The second quest, to slay a dragon, is left to another time and place.
Beowulf (Butler) is a handsome devil, with a mighty heart and heavy sword, as pure as he is powerful. He arose from the sea, carried on a tree trunk from some far distant shore to pledge allegiance to the King (Skarsgård). His arrival alone creates buzz.
Beowulf witnesses the unspeakable brutality of Grendel, but in time recognizes that the pain behind the beast s rage may have something to do with the King.
The King plunges deeper and deeper into drunkenness, overcome with guilt, knowing he is unable to protect his people from Grendel because he s lost it. He s emotionally crippled, refusing to take responsibility for his wrong doing against Grendel, but eaten alive by it.
Skarsgård plays him as heart-breakingly vulnerable, and credulous, with a survivor s sense of humour. He does the unthinkable; he sits on the ground beneath his warriors, a sign of submission, miserable to the core.
He prays to the god Alden and asks a wandering Christian priest to baptize him, but nothing helps. Beowulf, his friend from the sea, must destroy the beast.
Beowulf seeks the advice of a local witch named Selma (Polley) who speaks the truth plainly and gathers herbs (must be a witch! Probably has a cat, too). She knows Grendel.
She s a saucy one, with the red hair of passion and no need of men.
Gunnarsson s Daneland is a vast canvas of natural beauty and terror the majestic mountains and seas, the swallowing skies and the constant rain in which the cast and crew labored for three months. There is a constant chill in the air, a reminder of man s place in the world that underlines the relentless feeling of doom.
It s a fitting backdrop for mythic, epic battles.
Gunnarsson strove to make the film as real to the time as possible, in ways that are beautifully strange and even funny to us now. A storm came up and ate my boat when I was whale hunting ; giving human qualities to nature.
The action unfolds slowly but it s a captivating medieval world Gunnarsson has created. It s a relief to see a film of this genre shot without computer graphics, a simple story told simply for utmost impact.
Its stark simplicity will turn some audiences off, but the presence of Gerard Butler and Sarah Polley may draw fans. Gunnarsson is to be credited for his boldness. While not exactly a dragon slayer, he has beaten Hollywood to the punch.