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1,200-year-old story has great visuals

Category: Beowulf & Grendel Reviews
Article Date: March 10, 2006 | Publication: Edmonton Journal (Alberta) | Author: Katherine Monk, CanWest News Service

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Movie has new characters, updated dialogue and a post-modern take on the quest


Rating 21/2

Director: Sturla Gunnarsson

Starring: Gerard Butler, Sarah Polley, Stellan Skarsgard, Ingvar E. Sigurdsson

Classification: 14A

Parental warning: Violence, sexual content

Theatres: City Centre, South Edmonton

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College students beware. This movie version of Beowulf is not the one to watch before writing your English literature exam.

Featuring new characters, updated dialogue and a post-modern take on the nobility of the heroic quest, Sturla Gunnarsson's movie cuts a brave and bold swath through the gnarled landscape of the ancient text.

Believed to have been written more than 1,200 years ago by a native of what was called West Mercia (the West Midlands of today), Beowulf tells the story of a brave Geat (sic) warrior named Beowulf and his quest to destroy the marauding, giant troll Grendel.

Grendel has slaughtered Danes without mercy, leaving Beowulf's Danish friend Hrothgar a broken-hearted cripple of a king. Beowulf, following the ancient code of the warrior, has decided to avenge Hrothgar and the Danes by wielding his long sword, and slaying the dreaded beast.

The original poem, written in Anglo-Saxon, is considered the first epic poem in English and inspired J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings as a result of its grand scale, its depiction of the warrior's way of life and its grand, dramatic tableaux pitting good against evil.

Beowulf is also one of the few early works of literature that alludes to the rise of Christian ideology, only without any direct references to Jesus, his sacrifice or any other specifics that could, potentially, interfere with the sanctity of the warrior's own code, and his dedication to a different kind of lord -- not the religious kind, but the one who would keep a warrior fed, clothed and honoured among men.

In Gunnarsson's movie, Beowulf & Grendel, scripted by Andrew Rai Berzins, creative licence gives way to some fundamental changes to the story's structure and, finally, its message.

Beowulf (Gerard Butler) is still a hero among men, but this version bears witness to his struggle with conscience as he hunts down Grendel (Ingvar E. Sigurdsson), the giant who seeks to destroy the Danes.

When Beowulf first meets Hrothgar (Stellan Skarsgard) as a grown man, he fails to ask why Grendel makes a distinction between his foes, which means he has no idea Hrothgar killed Grendel's father, and is therefore his sworn enemy.

In this version of the tale, morality and the validity of a vengeful quest outweigh the action and adventure, which may have been a miscalculation as far as the film's box office is concerned.

People seeking an epic swashbuckler will be disappointed by the film's humble scale and scanty battle scenes.

Meanwhile, those seeking a loyal adaptation of the "original" text (the poem has been rewritten several times over and was once nearly lost to a great fire) will be surprised to see the presence of Selma, the soothsaying witch, played by Sarah Polley.

A truly strange effort, Beowulf & Grendel is a magnificent film to watch -- thanks to the majestic visuals and the captivating scenery -- but it fails to satisfy emotionally, and whether you're talking about a 1,200-year-old text, or a cutting-edge film shot on location, that's all that matters.

Copyright 2006 Edmonton Journal, a division of Canwest MediaWorks Publication Inc.
All Rights Reserved


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