‘Beowulf’ puts spin on ancient epic

Category: Beowulf & Grendel Reviews | Posted by: admin
Article Date: August 11, 2006 | Publication: Boston Herald | Author: James Verniere
Publication/Article Link:http://thedge.bostonherald.com

Beowulf & Grendel

Movie Rating: (R) | Critic: B+

Holy Venerable Bede. It’s ‘‘Beowulf” time.

Someone else finally has noticed that Seamus Heaney’s acclaimed 1999 translation of ‘‘Beowulf” was a bestseller.

Recently, a Julie Taymor-directed opera titled ‘‘Grendel,” based on the 1971 novel by John Gardner and featuring a 20-ton piece of scenery, debuted in New York City. In December, Robert Zemeckis will unveil a new animated ‘‘Beowulf” with Angelina Jolie supplying the voice of the monster’s mother.

Now we get the arthouse version. An Icelandic saga directed by Sturla Gunnarsson, ‘‘Beowulf & Grendel” features British actor Gerard Butler (better here than in ‘‘The Phantom of the Opera”) as Beowulf, the legendary Scandinavian warrior immortalized in the oldest surviving English-language epic.

Also in the fine cast are Swede Stellan Skarsgard as King Hrothgar, Canadian Sarah Polley as a comely witch and Icelander Ingvar Eggert Sigurdsson as bloodthirsty Grendel. Shot on location in vast, primordial Iceland, the film is a modest but successful - and even at times spectacular - attempt at retelling in English one of the oldest tales in the canon of Western civilization.

At a time when Christianity is making inroads into pagan Nordic culture, Beowulf and his warrior band arrive at Danish King Hrothgar’s Mead Hall to help the profligate old monarch defend his people from a marauding monster, a troll known as Grendel. That monster takes an appreciably humanoid shape in this version of the story, which also marks the first brief appearance by Grendel’s father and an attempt to justify Grendel’s hatred and to give the story an Oedipal element.

‘‘Beowulf & Grendel” suggests the epic takes place at a ‘‘Clan of the Cave Bear”-like time when Homo sapiens may have coexisted with a few remaining Neanderthals and that the trolls of our legends and fairy tales may be distant reminders of them.

Not only is Beowulf out to kill the ‘‘monster,” he’s in competition with him for the sexual favors of Polley’s Selma. The film even tantalizingly suggests Grendel’s ‘‘people” may persist to this day in our gene pool. This would explain some of the behavior of our politicians, if nothing else.

(‘‘Beowulf & Grendel” contains violence and sexual imagery.)