'Beowulf' turns page to screen: Adaptation has some dialogue issues, but visuals successfully capture tale
Category: Beowulf & Grendel Reviews | Posted by: admin
Article Date: June 30, 2006 | Publication: ContraCostaTimes.Com | Author: William Arnold
THE EPIC POEM "Beowulf" is -- as every high school senior should know -- the oldest extant work of any significance in our (or any other modern European) language, and the point from which we normally date the beginning of English literature.
In some 3,182 lines of unrhymed alliterative verse, it tells the story of a brave hero, Beowulf, who comes to the rescue of a Danish king whose court is being terrorized and decimated by the nocturnal ravages of a monster named Grendel.
In this first film version (not counting the 1999 sci-fi update starring Christopher Lambert), the saga loses its more fantastical elements, and the creature, Grendel, gets equal billing and more human proportions: still a meanie but now more of a troll.
Otherwise, the movie -- a Canada-U.K.-Iceland co-production -- plays it straight, keeping its strain of rowdiness and violence in control, and lending the tale the kind of somber respect filmmakers tend to give adaptations of Shakespeare and Dickens.
The film's near-fatal flaw is its dialogue, which had to be invented wholesale from the Old English text. It alternates between sounding stagy and anachronistically hip, with more overuse of the F-word than any two Samuel L. Jackson movies. It's a big mistake.
Visually, however, the film is a treat. Shot entirely in the outback of Iceland, it's a gallery of hauntingly beautiful locations, and director Sturla Gunnarsson skillfully uses its bleak otherworldliness to distance us from anything familiar and evoke a lost heroic age.
The cast also is solid. Sarah Polley is just right as a sympathetic, Grendel-friendly witch; Stellan Skarsgard is at his scene-stealing best as the imperiled king; and, as Beowulf, Gerard Butler (the Phantom of "Phantom of the Opera") is a vision of unconflicted Viking charisma.
Starring: Gerard Butler, Stellen Skarsgard, Sarah Polley, Ingvar Sigurdsson
Rated: Not rated
Opens today: Opera Plaza Cinema, S.F.