A very troll sense of humour
Category: Beowulf & Grendel News | Posted by: admin
Article Date: March 10, 2006 | Publication: National Post | Author: Vanessa Farquharson
BEOWULF & GRENDEL
Troll-on-witch sex, it can be said with a heck of a lot of understatement, isn't a beautiful thing to behold. All the grunting and the body hair and surely the halitosis -- not to mention the dank and smelly caves -- hardly make for a romantic experience. Even when the witch is played by Sarah Polley, a very attractive Canadian actress, the scene isn't any easier to stomach. Her blond hair is now spun into garish red dreadlocks and her slim physique is cloaked in what looks like mouldy hemp for this role in the film adaptation of a first-year English student's nightmare: the epic Anglo-Saxon poem, Beowulf.
The troll (Ingvar Sigurdsson) -- who would surely get more out of a canoodling session with a toothbrush -- goes by the name Grendel, which means "grinder." He's at the centre of this classic story about a misunderstood villain and a reluctant hero. Apart from the troll-on-witch action, it's an engaging look at a time, place and people that don't often make it to the big screen: the 6th century, Daneland/Geatland and, well, trolls.
Here's the thing: to enjoy this film, audiences must approach it with an offbeat sense of humour. They must feel free to go ahead and laugh as Polley, who doesn't even attempt a Scandinavian accent, translates Grendel's monosyllabic grunts -- literally, "Blah brah doo mrah" -- into complete English sentences detailing Beowulf's need to confront his burdens. Viewers also must be willing to chuckle at the exorbitant amount of cliff-side wailing (and subsequent dropping to knees), at Grendel's skull-bowling antics, or at the excessive use of the f-word at a time when it probably wasn't invented.
Even the production notes refer to the film as "a story of blood and beer and sweat, of sick jokes and fear of the dark." It's almost like the Scream of historical, action-hero cinema; a sort of anti-Braveheart, because as it works on one level, in that it has all the requisite material an epic period piece must have -- battle scenes, obvious allusions to Christ, beheadings, etc. -- it also manages to poke fun at all of this. Take for example the line Polley's character says to Beowulf immediately before they start ferociously kissing: "Don't forget, I know how you die." Could this have been a standard 6th-century pick-up line? In any case, one either has to laugh or just leave.
A Canada/Iceland/U.K. production from Norse-obsessed director Sturla Gunnarsson, Beowulf stars a wonderfully charming, attractive actor as the lead, Gerard Butler, who's like a more rugged Brad Pitt. Gunnarsson describes him quite simply as, "a subtle actor who looks good in chain mail and knows how to swing a sword." Viewers also may or may not remember him as Angelina Jolie's love interest in Tomb Raider 2.
The only thing more pleasant to look at in the film than Butler is the landscape. Filmed amongst the lush, rich, wuthering heights of Iceland through a cinematographer's adoring lens, it's really something to behold. It can make the mood go from tranquil to severe as fast as you can yell "troll!" which happens quite often.
The crew had to contend with the region's worst weather in six decades -- four hurricanes, sandstorms, an active volcano, blackouts and heavy snowfalls -- and it shows, in a way that renders everything just that little bit more intense. In the words of Gunnarsson, which frankly always seem to be the best words to put things in: "The shoot ran 45 days and on four of those days, Odin got really drunk" (Odin being a Norse god).
It also seems like the actors themselves got pretty sozzled, especially King Hrothgar (Stellan Skarsgard), the Dane whose people are getting brutally slaughtered by Grendel and whose natural response is to call up somebody else to deal with it and get blitzed. Hrothgar calls the hero his "little Beowulf," and when a priest attempts to convert him to Christianity, he responds, "Christ, eh? Heard of him. Any luck with trolls?" It's the bender of all benders and, because it's a royal one, it's all the funnier.
But Gunnarsson also has the tendency to get sentimental and it doesn't quite work, especially in the opening scene that depicts Grendel as a child-troll -- with facial hair, mind you, which is truly disturbing -- mourning the death of his father. It should be a tragic moment, but the gurgling noises he keeps making are awkwardly distracting and, when he decides to pass on a burial or cremation in favour of decapitating his dead father, then sticking the rotting head on the mantle of his cave, it just gets uncomfortable.
But when Gunnarsson drenches Beowulf in nothing but booze, wenches and troll jokes, which is thankfully what most of the film is all about, it makes for an entirely original form of entertainment. Perhaps it will pave the way for a new genre -- the ironic-historical-epic dramedy.
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