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A literary monster movie

Category: Beowulf & Grendel News
Article Date: September 17, 2005 | Publication: The Halifax Daily News (Nova Scotia) | Author: Smulders, Marilyn

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Even though it's been around for centuries, there are remarkably few film adaptations of the epic Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf. Committed to sheepskin 1,000 years ago after generations of campfire recountings, Beowulf tells the story of a great Norse warrior who slays the monster Grendel that has been terrorizing the neighbouring kingdom.

There have been attempts, including Christopher Lambert's Beowulf, set in the post-apocalyptic future, and The 13th Warrior, Antonio Banderas's riff on the Beowulf legend.

Apparently, Forrest Gump director Robert Zemeckis has a Beowulf adaptation in the works, too - a big-budget film that will use the same kind of performance-capture animation he used to make The Polar Express.

It's hard to think of anything that could rival Canadian director Sturla Gunnarsson's fascinating Beowulf & Grendel, filmed last fall in Iceland. It screens tonight at 7 p.m. as the Atlantic Film Festival's international gala at the Oxford. Gunnarsson will sit down with journalist Laurie Brown for the Academy Lunch tomorrow at 12:30 p.m. at the Delta Halifax.

"The appeal for me is that it's just such a great yarn. It's our oldest story in the English language and has tremendous bones," says Gunnarsson, whose film, Rare Birds, opened the Atlantic Film Festival three years ago and captured the People's Choice Award.

"The basic story is the prototype of Western and the hero quest. It swims out of the same gene pool as Lord of the Rings. After all, J.R.R. Tolkien was a Beowulf scholar and spoke Icelandic."

Beowulf & Grendel stars hunky Scottish actor Gerard Butler, seen recently as the Phantom in The Phantom of the Opera. He plays the tortured hero whose moral resolve crumbles when he discovers Grendel is not a mythic monster, but a son seeking vengeance for his father's murder.

In an interview for the film Dear Frankie earlier this year, Butler was eager to talk about Beowulf & Grendel instead: "My last two days, I was working in essentially zero degrees (Celsius) soaking wet for two nights. I was in the Icelandic Sea. I was filming on glacial rivers, on top of glaciers ...

"One day, eight car windows were put in by flying rocks from the wind, and our base camp was blown away five times. It was insane. There was one scene where four actors were blown three feet off their marks in one gust of wind."

Butler wasn't exaggerating. The Icelandic-born Gunnarsson says Beowulf & Grendel was filmed under trying conditions - "extreme temperatures, horizontal rain, 160-kilometre winds - and that was just one day," he says with a laugh. But he adds the inhospitable environment, not to mention its breathtaking beauty, was integral to the authentic look and feel of the film.

"You could never create a look like that. And it was fabulous for the actors - like having an unwritten character in every scene, the weather. It forced them to be spontaneous and open.

"And it helped us understand the universe these guys lived in - how it shaped their rugged characters and weird senses of humour."

Today at the film fest

- Beowulf & Grendel: Gerard Butler sure looks fine in chain mail. Tonight, 7 p.m. at the Oxford.

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