Beowulf & Grendel
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THIS TELLS THE BLOODY TALE OF WARRIOR BEOWULF'S BATTLE WITH GRENDEL, A MURDEROUS TROLL. THE BATTLE-SCARRED HERO BEOWULF LEADS A TROOP OF WARRIORS TO HELP KING HROTHGAR, WHOSE KINGDOM IS DESTROYED BY GRENDEL. HOWEVER, BEOWULF'S ATTEMPTS TO FIGHT THE TROLL ARE THWARTED WHEN GRENDEL REFUSES TO ENGAGE IN BATTLE.
The otherworldly landscape of Iceland lends an appropriate touch of dark fantasy to this modern retelling of Beowulf, the oldest epic poem in the English language. Gerard Butler (The Phantom of the Opera) brings the right balance of physicality and world-weariness as the Swedish hero Beowulf, who travels to Denmark to fight the monstrous troll Grendel (Icelandic superstar Ignvar Sigurdsson), which has been plaguing the house of King Hrothgar (Stellan Skarsgård, buried under a mound of prosthetic hair). However, what transpires is not a battle between good and evil, but a convoluted mystery of sorts, with Beowulf playing the detective who discovers that his foe is more human than monster, and Hrothgar less wronged innocent than catalyst for his own downfall. Director Sturla Gunnarsson succeeds in pulling this legendary story from the dust of academics by contemporizing the dialogue (Andrew Rai Berzins has an excellent ear for hard-bitten palaver), and his visuals are nothing less than striking, but the film attempts to be both monster movie and melancholy drama, while never quite satisfying the requirements of either genre. Regardless, the quality cast (which includes Sarah Polley from Dawn of the Dead as a sharp-tongued witch with a connection to Grendel) and some well-handled action sequences should hold viewers attention even when the unnecessarily complex plot does not. --Paul Gaita
- Commentary by director Sturla Gunnarsson and screenwriter Andrew Rai Berzins
- Deleted scenes
- "Wrath of Gods" featurette
- Cast interviews
- Costume sketches
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In this particular case, the special features are the best aspect---hearing about the vision and story arch, watching the creators compete with the weather in Iceland to make the film... Really quite interesting.
The retelling stays only with the first half of the story---the hero Beowulf (who of course "err's" with the same kindness Hrothgar in the end). There is an added character here too, who in terms of this interpretation of the story is very interesting and I liked her---won't give that part away. But I'm always troubled how filmmakers strip King Hrothgar of everything, dignity and wisdom as well. Hrothgar is at the end of his life---but it was a noble life, he was a Great Goldgiving King who left a great legacy of community in building Heorot. Then the demon fiend threatens to take all that away, yes. But Hrothgar isn't pitiful, and in the original there is no hint that i can find (having studied it scholarly for over 20 years) that even suggests Hrothgar is to blame or has any filial connection with Grendel. And Hrothgar, though weakened by age and too many battles, still has a wealth of wisdom to pass on to Beowulf. In fact his only "weakness" is seen through Wealtheow, his Queen, who is concerned that Hrothgar has grown so fond of Beowulf as a kind of son to him that he might neglect his own two sons when it comes to leaving them his kingdom. Read the poem---it is work, perhaps, because it is unfamiliar in our current culture---but it is worth it.
So if you're looking for a fun epic hero story from the Nordic area with harsh weather conditions and viking heroics, you'll enjoy the film. But if you're looking for a true adaptation of the great epic Poem in full, devoted to the glory as well as the tragedy of Beowulf's story (hero in Denmark, yes, but failed king in Geatland because he didn't take Hrothgar's wisdom to heart), the film will leave you hungry. (Remember, key elements of the poem were the inspiration for Tolkien's Hobbit and Ring trilogy...)
Not so with this one. The movie adopts a standard superhero-type formula which is to make Grendel the sympathetic character gone bad, and use this to create an altogether human story full of moral questions relating to the value of mercy, justice, and other profound questions. The story is thus immensely satisfying on a deep level.
Additionally, the cinematography is well done and the Icelandic landscape beautifully shot.
There are, of course, some areas which could have been improved. I was not entirely satisfied with the acting and portrayal of the "Selma" character (not found in the original epic). However, the other characters are well portrayed and the rest of the acting is good.
Now, let me give you some pointers that will help you decide if this movie is for you: 1.) It will help in your enjoyment of the movie, if you have read Beowulf. 2.)Also, if you have some knowledge and enjoy reading Norse myth, this will increase your enjoyment of the picture. 3.) If you can understand that animals use urination as a method to mark territory. This is the point of the scene at the meet hall in the movie, when they show the troll urinating. It is also used to embarrass the heroes.
I don't know if I agree with the portrayal of the troll as a sort of Neanderthal cave dweller, but I understand why they did it. They did it so they could show Beowulf, one step up on the evolutionary ladder. I also agree with their decision to use comprehensible English. This opens up the movie to a much wider audience.
My favorite character in the movie was Selma, played by Sarah Polley. She was the moral conscience of the film.
They filmed, the movie in Iceland, under extremely hard conditions for the filmmakers. The audience can see this in the featurette in the DVD extras, and on the commentary track, for those of you that listen to such things. The filmmakers have also included deleted scenes in the special features on the DVD. They are interesting, if not informative.