Epic adventure not for the squeamish

Category: Beowulf & Grendel Reviews | Posted by: admin
Article Date: April 21, 2006 | Publication: The Star Phoenix (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan) | Author: Cam Fuller
Publication/Article Link:http://www.canada.com/saskatoonstarphoenix/index.html

It's like Lord of the Rings: The Prepre-prequel.

A mere 1,700 years in the making, the epic Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf comes to the big screen. The stunning scenery, rugged warriors and unrestrained gore are reminiscent of the Rings trilogy, though the stories are different, of course.

Daneland has a problem. It's sevenfoot-five and 350 pounds of grunting vengeance in the form of the troll Grendel. As a child, he witnesses his father being killed by sadistic soldiers. King Hrothgar notices the boy hiding and spares his life. That one kindness will haunt him.

An early indication that this isn't a family film comes when the child takes his father's broadsword and hacks his dad's head off to take home because he can't carry the whole body.

Now grown, Grendel eases his resentment by killing Hrothgar's retinue with his bare hands. He's crippled the king, who's powerless to do anything but stay numb with drink and mourn the mounting losses. Enter Beowulf, a hero from Geatland who comes to do some troll hunting.

An engaging cast, led by Iceland's foremost actor, the formidable Ingvar E. Sigurdsson as Grendel, brings the story to life. Gerard Butler loses nothing to the Viggo Mortensens of the world as the hero. And Sarah Polley makes for a fetching witch, Selma, who can foretell everyone's death.

The project couldn't be in better hands than those of Canadian director Sturla Gunnarsson (Rare Birds, Such A Long Journey) who is of Icelandic heritage. The Iceland-Canadian co-production was shot in Iceland under harsh conditions which included 160-km/h gales. There's no substitute for the wind-swept cliffs and sea-sprayed beaches where the action takes place. You get an idea of how tough people had to be in order to survive here.

The story suffers some paralysis in the mid-section when nothing much seems to happen. After that, there are some definite surprises as a few carefully preserved secrets are revealed. Though set in the 500s, there's a modern streak running through the screenplay. It comments against racism in the way Grendel is persecuted and mocks organized religion with a Christian missionary who claims to have all the answers. Selma, meanwhile, couldn't be more avantgarde. She's iconoclastic and independent, a feminist before her time.

Despite the brutality, there's humour in the story. When the king emerges to find Beowulf on his shores he utters the anachronistic, "Nobody tells me anything.'' Later, the troll hunters scan the vast horizon for their prey and one of them quips, "let's spread out and meet back here in a year.'' Those lines don't likely exist in the original poem, but they're welcome here. If nothing else, they curb one's temptation to parody the film; when the heroes ride by on miniature horses, it's hard not to conjure up memories of the Monty Python gang clacking coconuts together.

Fans of epic period adventures won't find much to dislike in this film, but the violence and adult themes should dissuade the squeamish and young.

BEOWULF & GRENDEL

Starring: Gerard Butler, Sarah Polley Director: Sturla Gunnarsson Theatre: Broadway

Rating 3 1/2