Dir: Sturla Gunnarsson.Can-UK-Ice. 2005. 103mins.
Beowulf And Grendel is a handsomely mounted retelling of the ancientAnglo-Saxon classic from the early Middle Ages, the period in which a nascentChristianity was attempting to establish itself among the warring pagan tribesof northern Europe.
It appears that littleexpense was spared, and the cast boasts the likes of Stellan Skarsgard, SarahPolley, and the dashing Gerard Butler as the hero.
Unfortunately, a bit lessseems to have been spent on the film's script, especially the dialogue, andthis single-handedly turns what could have been a triumphant piece of epicfilm-making into a farce. This will all but doom the co-production inEnglish-speaking territories, but this literary adaptation/action film mayrecoup some of its cost in countries where dubbing will keep the verbalexchanges from clanging and clashing more loudly than the swords.
The story will be familiarto 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 thedepressed Hrothgar (Skarsgard), king of the Danes and fend off the destructivetroll Grendel (Sigurdsson).
Though Beowulf is unfamiliarwith the back story, we know from a prologue (not in the original) that thereason Grendel is wreaking such havoc is that Hrothgar killed his father. Therest of the story details the efforts of Beowulf and his hearty band to ridDane-land of this scourge. Not surprisingly, a love interest for Beowulf hasalso been fabricated in the fetching, if not-quite-believable person, of awitch named Selma (Polley).
The plot of thiscomparatively unknown classic could have been more efficiently developed byscreenwriter Andrew Rai Berzins. But this is the least of the script'sproblems. The biggest difficulty is the language which, presumably in an effortto 'update' the dialogue, never achieves a believable consistency.
At one moment, Hrothgarexclaims: "By the gods, it's good to see you!"; at another he complains like anAmerican teen that "Nobody tells me anything!" Other dialogue includes "I tellyou, this troll must be one tough prick!" and "Who does he think he is, somefucking troll Caesar'"
It goes without saying thatthe power of the magical confrontation with pure evil which marks the originalliterary text is mostly jettisoned in favour of industrial strengthsword-fighting.
There are a few other, lessconsequential, missteps, such as portraying the nearly completely flat Denmarkas a land of huge mountains (the film was presumably shot in Iceland).
There are also flashes ofpotentially interesting themes - such as the priest who tries to sell Christ tothe pagan warriors by claiming that the Lord will keep them safe in battle, andthe inclusion of the Homeric-style, storytelling poet within the story to add acomic and potentially self-reflexive depth - that are never sufficientlydeveloped.
Grendel himself, especiallyas played by Sigurdsson, is a wonderfully elemental force as he screams out inanger and frustration to the endless mountains. But while the mythic power ofthe film's ending almost redeems its many faults, it is not quite enough.
Spice Factory UK
The Film Works
Icelandic Film Corporation
Anna Maria Karlsdottir
Michael Lionello Cowan
Andrew Rai Berzins
Arni Pall Johannsson
Hilmar Orn Hilmarsson