Friday, March 10, 2006

Film: Beowulf and Grendel


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This is a Canada-UK-Iceland production and not made by Hollywood, and it shows. It's actually refreshing to not see an overly slick epic sword film. Written approximately 1000 AD, by anonymous, sometimes touted as a priest, this is one of the longest old English poems. It was regarded as being mainly of interest to academics, but it was brought to prominence by J.R.R. Tolkien in his essay, "Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics" from 1936.

Recently seen in King Arthur and the last Exorcist movie, Stellan Skarsgård, a great actor, shows up as the beleaguered King Hrothgar. Beowulf and twelve other warriors show up to help kill off a troll who recently stormed the King's wooden lodge and massacred twenty guards. The troll Grendel, dresses in a chain mail vest and appears to stand around 8 ft tall. In fact, Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson stands just a hair above 6 feet but appears quite a bit larger thanks to movie magic.

This medieval tale is a morality story. We soon figure out why, exactly, Grendel the troll torments the Danish King and his very small collection of subjects, however, our hero Beowulf, played by Gerard Butler (last seen in The Phantom of the Opera) doesn't know the full story. Sarah Polley is the local witch who can see how people die but she doesn't even make an attempt to fake an accent more becoming of those times. She speaks as if she's hanging out with friends at the mall.

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Gerard Butler as Beowulf.

Gerard Butler gives a strong performance as the hero with both a heart and a sense of morality. And he looks a bit Christ-like with the long, flowing hair.

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Stellan Skarsgard in Beowulf and Grendel.

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Here he is again in King Arthur.

The film made me feel chilly and isolated, perfectly matching the rocky, steep seaside terrain, shrouded quite often in mist. Director Sturla Gunnarsson (Such A Long Journey) filmed in his native Iceland, which he immigrated from as a child to move to Canada. The dangerous black cliffs tower above the sea and contribute to the unbelievable scenery.

Beowulf and Grendel is a refreshing epic film but due to its lack of mainstream production values, it may not find the size of audience it really deserves.

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