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Canadian Beowulf & Grendel Review

Category: Beowulf & Grendel Reviews
Article Date: March 22, 2006 | Publication: CanMag.Com (So. California) | Author: Ryan Parsons

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It is no secret that Beowulf & Grendel, starring the very loved Gerard Butler, has a die hard group of supporters. The film has slowly made its way across the globe and is now knocking on North America's door. The latest breakthrough for the film was its release to Canada, which most had figured would ease the film's way into the US. Though Beowulf & Grendel is not in the US yet, it is still getting some very positive reviews from our friends up north.

I have recently received a couple emails from Lise Leveillee who had not only given us an extensive look at Beowulf & Grendel but at Gerard Butler himself (coming later). Since we have yet to get our mitts on the film, check out the review/rundown from Lise below (spoilers alert):

In the prologue “A Hate is Born”: The first sight that catches your eye is an incredible view of a landscape and you are transported almost immediately into the Epic that is Beowulf.

A very tall man is standing there playing with his little son, what is more normal than that and yet, you soon find out that there is nothing normal about them as the man stops to sniff the hair and urges his young son to come to him.

The man and the child are trolls, pursued by Danes and trolls are hunted down till killed as we will find out.

The troll, totally unarmed is shot down by arrows as his young son watches in horror and falls down a cliff.

As the last of the Danish warrior prepares to leave, he spots the young boy hiding on a ledge of the cliff and as man and troll child stare at one another, there is born Grendel in the eye of the troll child as he growls at the killer of his father, at King Hrothgar (all played with intensity by the brilliant Stellan Skarsgard).

One has to wonder how a child as young as Hringurd Sigurdsson (I do hope I have the spelling of his first name right) was made to play this part of the young Grendel. He has the concentration, the screen presence of an older child actor. He completely takes us deep into the pain and grief of Grendel as he tries to revive his father and then cuts down his head which he tenderly carries back with him.

Push forward to Danesland, several years later as the adult Grendel (Ingvar Sigurdsson, the real-life father of the child playing Grendel, and an actor to be discovered since you can feel all his pain, all his anger at what was done to his character) sits in his cave and gazes at the mummified head of his father, that he lets out howls of pain and may we believe promises of revenge.

All appears to be well with the Danes yet as they sacrifice to Aldin, their god, and that they enter their beer hall to drink and be merry and yet, as one lone guard stands there, sensing danger approaching him and having a last encounter with the vengeful Grendel, we tense, knowing that there is more to come.

As we see Grendel approach the beer hall poised against the door, we can almost see what is there to be found the next day.

Let’s play forward to the next part – “A Hero from the Sea” – This is our first glance at the incredibly talented and good-looking Gerard Butler as Beowulf (yes, I admit to being a Tart but I couldn’t have written a review about the movie at TIFF since I was more concentrated on my idol than on the movie but having seeing it over 3 times since it opened on March 10, 2006, I feel I can now make an honest critic of it) who appears to be just waiting for the director to say “Action!” here and then as if waking from a dream, starts swimming to the shore. It is quite a scene to witness! I admit to having found that scene very unreal and yet at the same time, it works for what we are told of Beowulf.

His first meeting is with a fishmonger on the shore and their exchanges are all held with a thick Scottish accents from both but if you have seen enough of Gerard Butler’s movies, you ear become trained to the Scottish accent so the conversation is quite funny and not exactly the type of conversation you expect Beowulf to have with a fishmonger. It does make for a funny moment when the fishmonger asks Beowulf if he gets made at time being a hero and we see a flashback to a fight scene where Beowulf actually cuts the head of one opening and he replies to the fishmonger that he does not get really mad at time. There is a campiness (my fellow Tarts are probably going to lynch me for this but since I felt that it actually helped to make the story more interesting, I a not pointing this out to criticize Mr. Butler’s performance) in the way at times Gerard Butler plays Beowulf but it only adds to the charm of the character. After all, since everywhere he goes, Beowulf is introduced at the Great Geats Hero, why shouldn’t he feel a little bit either swellheaded or bored by it!

We get our first glance at Tony Curran (an actor who unfortunately seems to more known for playing roles in vampire movies more than anything, too bad, since I can see the potential there for using such an actor in more well-defined role) being teased as he plays Hanschow (is that how his character’s name is supposed to be written? That is how it sounds to me) and we hear Brekka saying that Hanschow’s wife will finally get a rest.

When they were first talking about this movie, it was often mentioned that the men in there sounded like a bunch of guys hanging around bars and having a good time, well, they do sound like that, lots of swearing, lots of four-letter words. If your ears are easily offended by crude language, please try and remember that warriors did speak as crudely as that even a long time ago.

Once again, we are swept off our feet by the incredible primeval beauty of Iceland as we see the rain pouring down on what is our first encounter with Father Brendan, the interesting Eddie Marsan. Of course, when the boat of our Geat Heroes is sailing through the ice-covered landscape, it almost land to the whole story a touch of magic and we half expect to see wraiths or even dragons sweep down on them. No special effects here but in a way that is the beauty of this movie. You do not get distracted by artificial characters created by the magic of CGI but rather you are overwhelmed by the reality of the harsh conditions under which the actors had to perform and yet, at the same time, you would like to witness for yourself how strong is the wind, how beautiful and awesome the landscape and the sea.

You are reminded of the old legends about invaders from the sea as you can see them chanting as they push their boat ashore. Their first encounter with one of Hrothgar’s men is almost one of banter where in reply to his: “If you fail to name yourself to me, I will blow the horn and 50 men will come here!”, he is told that it would more likely be “50 birds”. Then when Beowulf does introduce himself and the herald goes: “The Great Hero from Geatland?”, you have to laugh as Hanschow goes: “Here we go again!” You can easily forget that the story is taking place in 500 A.D.

The first encounter between Selma (the talented and versatile Canadian Sarah Polley), standing on a hill, and Beowulf (Gerard Butler) walking at a distance from where she is already gives us a hint that there will be more between Selma Beowulf than meets the eye. As the witch Selma, in that particular scene, Polley looks like she just stepped out from the sea and she is about to cast a spell on the whole crowd there.

How low has Hrothgar gone in gloom is seen in his first encounter with Beowulf. Already, we had seen him trying to fight Grendel and only winding up being ignored by the latter to be found the next morning, a king kneeling in front of one his men, dead, and being berated by his queen (the actress is very good, very beautiful, very refined but unfortunately I do not know her name; Sturla Gunnarsson described her as “the lusty queen” at TIFF) for lowering himself so in the eyes of his people. It is thus, that he has his first encounter with Father Brendan who comments on “What a shiny sword this is!” bringing more shame to the already depressed Hrothgar who comments after being told of Jesus Christ: “I have heard of him! Did he ever run into trouble with trolls?” You practically cannot stop yourself from guffawing as Eddie Marsan replies what would be interpreted as “Not that I know of!”

It is a sad and older Hrothgar that meets Beowulf and comments that “Nobody tells him anything!” and then on taking a good look at Beowulf says: “I remember you smaller” to which Butler replies: “I was 8 when I left!” The exchange is entertaining. Especially when Hrothgar enquires of Beowulf if he needs a beer! Yes, this is a good story about a group of men getting together for fighting, drinking and carousing.

The tone becomes more somber when finally the Geats get their first encounter with Grendel who having no quarrel with them limits himself to urinating on the door! One can almost smell the stench as we see our Geat heroes holding their noses in disgust.

But Grendel is not all into revenge. He even takes the time to play bowling with the heads of his victims and where we should feel horror, we cannot help ourselves but laugh at his excitement after having knocked one out.

Soon though, our hero, Beowulf realizes that there is more than meet the eye with the whole situation where Grendel is concerned. This is how we realize that Selma knows more than she appears to know. Yet, I have one gripe here. Yes, the character of Selma does not exist in the actual tale but since it is introduced through this movie, could it have been used more than it was? There is obviously very good chemistry here between Selma and Beowulf, there is almost from the start a sexual tension between them, a love-hate relationship, and although I still wonder what makes her more attractive in the eyes of Beowulf than any of the comely young widows in the beer hall, one feels that it is probably that she is not that impressed with him and that is why he seems to seek her out. Of course, he has good reasons to do so: she supposedly knows the time of your death. Even while claiming he is not curious about his own death but rather of that of Grendel, we can feel, and Gerard Butler makes us feel that in the way he portrays Beowulf, that he is yet curious and a little bit afraid of what he might be told about his own fate.

Gerard Butler is an actor renowned for going after the softer side of some very hard characters, making them more human, more real. And he does that again here with Beowulf making his hero sense that there is more to Grendel’s murderous rampage against the Danes than what meets the eyes. This is a very compassionate hero here who soon finds out that Grendel is only killing Danes warriors, no woman, no child, no old men. One even has to laugh at his heated exchange with a babbling Grendel whom Selma seems to be the only one to understand. When our hero recounts his encounter with Grendel and proclaims to Hrothgar: “He stood on top of me in the mountains and spoke words!”, you can sense the awe and wonder of Beowulf.

The Geats do finally find the cave where Grendel has been living and one of them, Hanschow does the unthinkable, attacking one of Grendel’s most prized possessions, his father’s mummified head, thus selling his own fate. Brekka does the same by desecrating Grendel’s cave by urinating down on it, thus being a target for the white skinned creature lurking under the water. For those who haven’t yet realized it, that creature is Grendel’s mother.

Grendel finally has a reason to attach the Geats and as Beowulf points out later to Hrothgar: “He killed on Geat, the one he held for blame. He could have killed more!” As Grendel tries to escape after killing Hanschow, his arm is caught in a rope that Beowulf tried to tie around him. Grendel will not be caught or held prisoner and proving to have more courage and determination than most of us would have, he chops up his own arm before the stunned, (and should I say saddened since he does appear to feel sad for the troll) Beowulf.

As the Danes and Geats celebrate the end of gloom, one has to wonder if this is really the end of their troubles. Even as Hrothgar and Beowulf exchanges rowdy tales of kings they know, especially one named Sig who goes to war with six legs and has done it with a rabbit and got stuck. This scene even though loaded with lots of crude language is hilarious and whether you like it or not, you find yourself laughing with them, imagining the depraved Sig.

I must admit to having watched with difficulty the scene where Selma recounts on how Grendel took her. Not that it was overly offensive or anything. There is no nudity but it is done so fast and with almost no emotion that I felt sorry for Grendel. Her sexual encounter with Beowulf was more entertaining. We know as she starts parting her legs that it is an invitation to him to take her. The moment has been building up from their first glance at each other. Though we are taken aback when he tries to kiss her tenderly and she slaps him and tell him: “You think you can tie me and drag me like a dog! Don’t forget, I know when you die!” and then she is pushing him down as she kisses him. Now that is what I call passion. We even feel that this could happen this way in real life, two people struggling to get things started and being awkward at it.

While our hero is thus being entertained by the comely witch, Grendel’s mother is making her first real appearance on the screen. She is not as ugly as I would have thought she would be. She would actually look very pretty as a Norse maiden had her skin been less taught and her teeth better. Unfortunately for poor father Brendan, his exclamations about one of his converts having slept with a witch are put to an end by an angry and vengeful mother. You can feel all her pain in her wail when she sees the arm of her slain son nailed to a wall and her wrath is such that not too many will escape her that night.

No, this is not the end of gloom! Our hero will have to do one more fight. Half-expecting to find his one-armed opponent Grendel still alive, he is stunned to see him very dead and thus his guard being done, he is attacked by the sea-ĥag, Grendel’s mother (whoever plays her can boast about being one of the few women to have ever tossed around Gerard Butler. Not many of us would do that since most of us would rather put our arms around him and kiss him) and as it seems that our hero has met his last stand, he finally struggles up and slays her with the sword he found amongst a pile of bones.

Earlier on in the movie, Beowulf has a vision of a long-haired young boy standing behind a waterfall holding a sword. Well, now, he encounters him and soon comes to realize that the boy is Grendel’s and Selma’s son and our hero, definitely played with grandeur, opts to be merciful and makes the same mistake as Hrothgar did in allowing Grendel to live (or does he?) and allows the boy to live, telling him to be proud.

As he takes leave of Selma, whom we feel he loves, as he tenderly touches her cheek, he tells her to hide her son so that the Danes cannot find him and kill him as they did his father. She tells him that he could not find him and he replies that he is not them. She has the last words by saying: “You just killed his father. Has Hrothgar told you nothing?” A hero is made by the way he handles himself towards his fallen opponent and Beowulf is more a hero than Achilles in “Troy” as he buries the slain Grendel, elevate an altar of rock over him and even kneels down in homage to him and says “Sleep, Grendel” as Grendel’s son watches from his hiding place, tears rolling down from his eyes.

The final time that Beowulf will gaze at Selma is memorable as she stands next to her son and they both have a look on their faces that proclaim that should he ever come back, they will greet him warmly.

This is an entertaining movie, a refreshing one, not only for scholars who have read the original poem, the very first poem written in ancient Saxon but also for those who love a good adventure and action movie. I don’t normally see a movie more than once when it comes out, even movies starring Gerard Butler, but I can say I have seen this one 4 times already and will certainly go back and see it.

We have been waiting so long for the film to arrive in the states we are beginning to wonder if the only way in is through a DVD case.

Beowulf & Grendel comes to theatres some time in spring 2006.


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