DVD Review:Beowulf and Grendel (2006)

Category: Beowulf & Grendel Reviews | Posted by: maryp
Article Date: March 7, 2007 | Publication: Renaissance Magazine | Author: Paul Andrew MacLean
Publication/Article Link:Renaissance Magazine, Issue #53

Recently released on DVD by Anchor Bay, this is an obscure but interesting adaptation of the old myth, filmed entirely in Iceland. But unlike the myth, in which Grendel is depicted as a consummately evil being, the film embellishes the story with a prologue, explaining his origin and what might have made him the monster of legend.
The story begins with Grendel as a child, taking a stroll with his father in the Icelandic hills when they are overtaken by Viking raiders, who kill the father, but spare the child.
Years later, Viking settlements are terrorized in nocturnal raids by some kind of evil troll, which is, of course, Grendel (Ignvar Sirgurdsson). Now fully grown and filled with vengeful hatred, Grendel vents his rage in the merciless, indiscriminate slaughter of Viking men, women, and children. Into this dire situation arrives Beowulf (Gerard Butler), a shipwrecked Scottish warrior whom the Vikings ask for helping their defense against this bloodthirsty foe.
Beowulf initially combats Grendel but as time goes on, he comes to see Grendel as a victim, orphaned and now fighting back in the only way he knows how. Thus, it is hard to miss the film’s heavy-handed message – that indiscriminate homicide is justified when its perpetrators are victims. This really spoils the whole film, transforming what could have been a good adventure yarn into a tiresome (not to mention wrong-headed) social-political sermon. Beyond that, some awkward gutter-talk litters the film’s dialog, presumably to show the raw earthiness of the characters, but it mostly feels anachronistic and misplaced.
In fairness, there is no denying the Beowulf and Grendel is a great-looking movie, which makes arresting use of Icelandic locales. With more films these days being shot on green soundstages (with CGI landscapes and sets being added in later), Beowulf and Grendel is, from a visual standpoint, a refreshing experience. The unrelenting Icelandic wind and rain lend an incalculable atmosphere to the look and feel of the film, as well as the performances, with the actors subject to much the same environmental hardships that afflicted the people of first-millennium Iceland. It really must have been murder to shoot this film in these conditions, but the results are stunning. It is therefore a pity that the script and characters do not measure up to the visuals, and the film is weighed down by a pro-terrorist mindset.
To anyone seeking a more entertaining screen adaptation of the Beowulf legend, check out Michael Crichton’s 1999’s epic The 13thWarrior.