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Troll Story

Category: Beowulf & Grendel Reviews
Article Date: March 9, 2006 | Publication: Eye | Author: JASON ANDERSON

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Starring Gerard Butler, Sarah Polley. Written by Andrew Rai Berzins. Directed by Sturla Gunnarsson. (14A) 103 min. Opens March 10.

A lot can go wrong when you're making a movie. A whole lot more can go wrong when that movie is an adaptation of an Old English epic poem about a bunch of butch Vikings and one angry troll, shot on location in Iceland in nightmarish weather conditions. Understandably, Sarah Polley had some reservations about getting involved.

As Polley said in an interview when Beowulf and Grendel made its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, "The worry with this was always: this will either be amazing... or absolutely awful. But it's one of those movies where you take the risk because the result could be so exciting."

Beowulf and Grendel is not an unqualified success, falling prey to some logy pacing and moments silly enough to remind the viewer that this is indeed a Viking epic, a cinematic genre as dubious as the Mexican wrestling movie. Thankfully, Sturla Gunnarson's take on the sixth-century tale of Norse derring-do is more enjoyable than not, marking a triumph over daunting circumstances ranging from hurricanes that destroyed base camps to the precarious financing cobbled together from three countries (Canada, Iceland and the UK). Gunnarson and writer Andrew Rai Berzins work with a multi-accented cast -- Gerard Butler as Beowulf; Stellan Skarsgård as Hrothgar, the pitiful king of the Danes; Ingvar Eggert Sigurdsson as Grendel; and Polley as Selma, a witchy lass who comes between the hero and the monster -- to successfully impose their own take on the ancient legend of a warrior's fight with a big hairy creature who's crushed the heads of too many Danes.

Besides the Toronto-based Gunnarson's desire to make a movie in his native Iceland, there were several things that drew him and Berzins to Beowulf, a fundamental piece of English lit. "One was that it was such a great yarn -- it's a campfire tale," says Gunnarson. "Also, it's the story that defines the hero myth as we know it. Right now we're reverting to a kind of tribalism so I thought it was relevant to take a look at the hero myth from a modern perspective."

Wisely skipping over the poem's boring bits and incorporating much boozing and wenching, the story has the right amount of self-awareness and some much-needed cheek. When the beer is flowing, Beowulf and his pals are like any blokes on a bender. "They're like a bunch of bikers," says Gunnarsson. "They like to drink, they like to get laid."

The production itself sounds like less fun. After spending several years getting financing together, Gunnarson decamped with his international crew to the south coast of Iceland in time to experience the region's worst weather in six decades. "This shoot was a total nightmare from beginning to end," says Polley with typical candour. "It was the most insane scenario I've been in since The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. We were shooting in hurricanes and it was completely disorganized -- it was really a lesson in survival. I felt like I'd gone to some sort of Outward Bound boot camp to learn how to be a woman in the wilds in the sixth century." She laughs. "I'm not a method actor but it worked that way -- it felt like I was scrounging for my existence!"

Polley seems pleased to have won this match against the odds and the elements. She also fesses up to the real motive for participating. "I'll tell you why I did the movie," she says. "I get to get fucked by a troll."

And who can argue with that?


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