Saturday, April 9, 2011

Beowulf & Grendel (2005)

CANADA/ ICELAND/ UK --- fantasy

Dir: Sturla Gunnarsson

The battle between good and evil has been mulled over in myth, legend, religion, and history since before man could formulate a language. The tales of heroes have always found their place in our hearts and minds, and the ancient epic poem of "Beowulf" has had its lasting appeal for that very reason. In this loose adaptation of the poem, director Sturla Gunnarsson does a highly impressive attempt at retelling the legend.

"Beowulf & Grendel" opens with a segment of the poem and almost immediately, the film deviates from it by showing us the grendel's father (a character made up for the film). The scene depicts Hroðgar (or Hrothgar in this film), the king of Daneland, in his youth with a bunch of his soldiers chasing and killing the elder grendel on a mountaintop. However, Horothgar allows the young grendel to live, a mistake he will live to regret. When the soldiers leave, the boy grendel goes to the beach shore, where his father's body lain. Pining for his father, he takes a keepsake; his father's head.

Fast forward years later, we see the adult grendel in a cave with the mummified skull of his father. He beats himself upon the head with stones in a rage, clearly in a fit stirring vengeance against his father's murderers. We see that the grendel espies the warriors camp, and plots his violent one man war against them. The grendel kills twelve of Hrothgar's soldiers one night. We are next introduced to Beowulf, who arrives on the shores of Geatland after being shipwrecked out on the sea. Beowulf gathers a group of Geat soldiers to visit his kin, King Hrothgar, who they have heard is in peril with a troll. When Beowulf arrives to the shores of Denmark, he comes across the seahag first, in the ocean. Then he consults with the hermit witch Selma (Canadian actress Sarah Polley), who begins to help him unravel the mystery of the troll's campaign of bloody vengeance. This is another newly invented character to serve the films updated version of the tale. Soon, Beowulf begins to understand that his perspective in this little skirmage must change in order to defeat the creature on his turf. After some revelations about the grendel fathering a child from the witch Selma, who of course sleeps with Beowulf too, the deviations of the film turn confusing. The addition of the new characters are clearly not needed, and though they do bring some character development to the grendel.

The final battle with Beowulf and the Sea Hag is over way too quick. The performances are well done throughout "Beowulf & Grendel". Gerard Butler is here to fill the stoic hero role and does as well as he can, but not as good as he is in "300". Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgård chews the scenery with relish, and that's not a bad thing as he puts in a brilliant portrayal as the fraught stricken King Hrothgar. Polley puts in a competent performance, but of course she's just a little too Western for the film in my opinion. Kudos to Iceland actor Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson for a down to earth performance as the other titular character. He plays the role with enough pathos and genuine primal nuance, you almost believe it's not a man. Gunnarson has a strikingly atmospheric direction. He has properly captured the cold yet beautiful landscape of the Iceland, which seems untouched by time. The major glaring mistake of this film is the use of curse words. It definitely feels completely out of place for these characters to be dropping the "F" bomb every couple of minutes. They could have used better make-up effects on the grendel. Albeit, the prosthetic effects they do use is very believable, and showing the monster in the beginning of the film prepares the audience for a credible version of the tale. Apparently they wanted to portray the grendel as more of a Sasquatch than a troll.