Beowulf, circa 2006

Category: Beowulf & Grendel Reviews | Posted by: admin
Article Date: March 10, 2006 | Publication: The Gazette (Montreal) | Author: KATHERINE MONK, CanWest News Service
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Ancient tale remade; New version fails to satisfy purists or the bloodthirsty

College students beware. This version of Beowulf is not the one to watch before writing your English literature exam.

Featuring new characters, updated dialogue and a post-modern take on the nobility of the heroic quest, Sturla Gunnarsson's movie cuts a bold swath through the ancient text.

Believed to have been written more than 1,200 years ago by a native of West Mercia (the West Midlands, England of today), Beowulf tells the story of a brave warrior and his quest to destroy the marauding, giant troll Grendel.

Grendel has slaughtered Danes without mercy, leaving Beowulf's Danish friend Hrothgar a broken-hearted king. Beowulf, following the ancient code of the warrior, has decided to avenge Hrothgar and the Danes.

The original poem, written in Anglo-Saxon, is considered the first epic poem in English and inspired J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings as a result of its grand scale, its depiction of the warrior's way of life and its pitting of good against evil.

In Gunnarsson's movie Beowulf and Grendel, creative licence gives way to some fundamental changes to the story's structure, and finally, its message.

Beowulf (Gerard Butler) is still a hero, but this version bears witness to his struggle with conscience as he hunts down Grendel (Ingvar E. Sigurdsson), the giant who seeks to destroy the Danes.

When Beowulf first meets Hrothgar (Stellan Skarsgard) as a grown man, he has no idea Hrothgar killed Grendel's father, and is, therefore, his sworn enemy.

In this version, morality and the validity of a vengeful quest outweigh action and adventure, which may have been a miscalculation as far as the film's box office is concerned.

People seeking an epic swashbuckler will be disappointed by the film's humble scale and scanty battle scenes. Those seeking a loyal adaptation of the "original" text (the poem has been rewritten several times over and was once nearly lost to a great fire) will be surprised to see the presence of Selma, the soothsaying witch, played by Sarah Polley.

A truly strange effort, Beowulf and Grendel is a magnificent film to watch but it fails to satisfy emotionally, and whether you're talking about a 1,200-year-old text, or a cutting-edge film shot on location, that's all that matters.

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