Film notoriety awaits Beowulf

Category: Beowulf & Grendel News | Posted by: admin
Article Date: February 14, 2005 | Publication: The Guardian | Author:
Richard Jinman
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He is the original action hero, a fearless Norse warrior who slew a murderous troll and helped inspire Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. And he is coming to a multiplex near you.

The race to turn Beowulf, the hero of the first great written English poem, into a box-office star to rival the likes of Aragorn, Achilles and Alexander the Great, has begun. Two films starring the fictional 6th-century sword-slinger are in production.

Beowulf & Grendel, directed by Sturla Gunnarsson, is a $12m co-production from Britain, Canada and Iceland, starring the Scots actor Gerard Butler. Filmed in Iceland, it is described by its producers as a "spiritual film".

Butler's Beowulf is a complex man who grows to understand and even sympathise with the troll Grendel.

The second film, Beowulf, is a $70m Hollywood production financed by the American millionaire Steve Bing and Sony Pictures. Its director is Robert Zemeckis, whose crew will use the stop-motion technology recently employed in the children's film The Polar Express.

Beowulf is no children's film, however. The script, co-written by Roger Avary, Quentin Tarantino's collaborator on Pulp Fiction, has been described as "... a sort of dark-ages Trainspotting [as in the film], filled with mead and blood and madness".

Beowulf & Grendel is to be released this year; Zemeckis' film is in pre-production.

Adam Minns, the British film editor of Screen International magazine, said filming Beowulf was symptomatic of the industry's interest in "epic-scale, fantasy-type" material following the success of Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

"Beowulf was one of the key inspirations for Lord of the Rings and I'm not at all surprised the success of that franchise has galvanised these two projects," he said.

But adapting the poem to the big screen has proved difficult in the past. The 1999 Beowulf-inspired epic The 13th Warrior, directed by John McTiernan, was an expensive flop. It was followed a year later by Beowulf, a lamentable science-fiction take on the poem starring Christopher Lambert. Both films failed to impress critics and audiences.

Andrew Rai Berzins, the Canadian screenwriter for Beowulf & Grendel, cites the implausibility of parts of the story, which was written in Anglo-Saxon by an unknown author sometime between 700 and 1000.

There was also a 50-year gap between the early events of the poem and Beowulf's climactic battle with a dragon, which proved a big hurdle in filming.

His screenplay focuses on the battle between Beowulf and the troll, and fleshes out the story with "several significant characters".

But he believes the script is true to "the bones of the story, the horror, the beauty and the doom".

He said: "If the Beowulf poet rolls over in his grave, I'm trusting it'll just be to get a better view of the screen."

A spokeswoman for Steve Bing's production company, Shangri-La Entertainment, declined to comment on its Beowulf script.

John Burrow, emeritus professor in the University of Bristol's English department, said Seamus Heaney's accessible 1999 translation of the "ripping yarn" had broadened interest, and that he would welcome the kind of mainstream interest the films might provoke.