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Beowulf And Grendel

Category: Beowulf & Grendel Reviews
Article Date: September 29, 2005 | Publication: ScreenDaily.com | Author: Peter Brunette
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Dir: Sturla Gunnarsson. Can-UK-Ice. 2005. 103mins.

Beowulf And Grendel is a handsomely mounted retelling of the ancient Anglo-Saxon classic from the early Middle Ages, the period in which a nascent Christianity was attempting to establish itself among the warring pagan tribes of northern Europe.

It appears that little expense was spared, and the cast boasts the likes of Stellan Skarsgard, Sarah Polley, and the dashing Gerard Butler as the hero.

Unfortunately, a bit less seems to have been spent on the film’s script, especially the dialogue, and this single-handedly turns what could have been a triumphant piece of epic film-making into a farce. This will all but doom the co-production in English-speaking territories, but this literary adaptation/action film may recoup some of its cost in countries where dubbing will keep the verbal exchanges from clanging and clashing more loudly than the swords.

The story will be familiar to those who benefited from an old-style education, but probably to few others. Beowulf is a hero from Geat (modern-day Sweden), who has come to aid the depressed Hrothgar (Skarsgard), king of the Danes and fend off the destructive troll Grendel (Sigurdsson).

Though Beowulf is unfamiliar with the back story, we know from a prologue (not in the original) that the reason Grendel is wreaking such havoc is that Hrothgar killed his father. The rest of the story details the efforts of Beowulf and his hearty band to rid Dane-land of this scourge. Not surprisingly, a love interest for Beowulf has also been fabricated in the fetching, if not-quite-believable person, of a witch named Selma (Polley).

The plot of this comparatively unknown classic could have been more efficiently developed by screenwriter Andrew Rai Berzins. But this is the least of the script’s problems. The biggest difficulty is the language which, presumably in an effort to ‘update’ the dialogue, never achieves a believable consistency.

At one moment, Hrothgar exclaims: “By the gods, it’s good to see you!”; at another he complains like an American teen that “Nobody tells me anything!” Other dialogue includes “I tell you, this troll must be one tough prick!” and “Who does he think he is, some fucking troll Caesar?”

It goes without saying that the power of the magical confrontation with pure evil which marks the original literary text is mostly jettisoned in favour of industrial strength sword-fighting.

There are a few other, less consequential, missteps, such as portraying the nearly completely flat Denmark as a land of huge mountains (the film was presumably shot in Iceland).

There are also flashes of potentially interesting themes - such as the priest who tries to sell Christ to the pagan warriors by claiming that the Lord will keep them safe in battle, and the inclusion of the Homeric-style, storytelling poet within the story to add a comic and potentially self-reflexive depth - that are never sufficiently developed.

Grendel himself, especially as played by Sigurdsson, is a wonderfully elemental force as he screams out in anger and frustration to the endless mountains. But while the mythic power of the film’s ending almost redeems its many faults, it is not quite enough.

 


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