March 14, 2007

Movie Review: Beowulf & Grendel

Having recently seen 300, an infinitely superior film to this, it came to mind that this was probably used as Gerard Butler's audition. In Beowulf & Grendel he shows that he has a certain charisma in the hack and slash type of film, and can spout inspirational dialogue at high volume. This is not to say that this is a good film, just to say that it can be used to fill certain uses by those who have chosen to be in it. I also do not mean to imply that Butler may have had any type of ulterior motive, just expressing a thought that came to mind as I watched. As for the film itself, well it is not a complete trainwreck, but it is not exactly good either. There are elements that worked well, and I like the idea that gave it birth.

I am not all that familiar with the original Beowulf poem, aside from reading portions of it many years ago in high school, and liking it. It is a grand tale of vengeance, a violent story of revenge, and the perfect fodder for an engrossing film. Sadly, this film is not that pure telling of the story that I may have hoped for, but it is an intriguing alternate take, a "what if" if you will. The end of the film, and I am sorry to spoil this but I feel it is necessary, reveals that the author of the original epic may have been a contemporary of the real Beowulf. Essentially, this was conceived as the real story that the poem may have been based on, a tale with real world origins that was exaggerated over the years into what it would become.

The story tells of King Hrothgar (Stellan Skarsgård), who many years ago led a hunting party against a troll that had been harassing the village. Once the deed was done, Hrothgar spies the creatures child and chooses to spare the young ones life. This sets the child along a path of vengeance. We then pick up the story some years into the future, Hrothgar is depressed, and not much of a leader at this point. The child troll, now an adult, emerges from the night to slaughter the Dane soldiers in retaliation for the murder of his father. His goal seems to be Hrothgar himself.

While this is going on, the mighty Beowulf (Gerard Butler) arrives on the scene, with stories of his prowess preceding him. Beowulf is, indeed, a mighty warrior, but is portrayed here as being somewhat humble, firm in what his goals are, but willing to downplay his legendary status. Hrothgar charges him with the task of ridding the land of the troll. The task proves to be a tough one, as the troll has different ideas of what needs to be done than our hero.

The strong points of the film lie in the story, not necessarily the script which does not have a good flow, but the story is solid. Beowulf is an honorable hero, he knows what is right and wrong, and it shows in the way he deals with people and the way he approaches the dirty business of war. Hrothgar is portrayed as a man who has been consumed with the fear of the creature and his desire to rid himself of its curse. Even more interesting is the portrayal of Grendel, he is a beast of intelligence, not out for the needless kill, only doing so in the service of his quest for vengeance. Take, for example, the first meeting between the two title characters, Beowulf is ready to fight, while the creature backs off, not wishing to fight someone who is not a Dane and is not someone involved in the death of his father.

The script itself just does not feel right, the pacing is off and at times souinds a touch too modern. Add to that the awful character of Selma, played by the terribly miscast Sarah Polley, an outcast witch with connections to all of the primary players. I don't know if it was the character, or the way Polley stood out like a sore thumb, but it feels like an extraneous plot deivce used to get around natural growth of the story.

Sturla Gunnarsson directed the film, and made great use of the Iceland locations. It has a look unlike what you get from your typical Hollywood production, and it looks great. There are some nice scenes, but again, it drags on, making the movie seem much longer than it truly is.

All things considered, this isn't all that bad, aside from pacing, some bad dialogue, and one glaring casting mistake, it is a somewhat interesting take on the epic story. It brings up the interesting topics or revenge, vengeance, loyalty, and understanding. The bad guy is not really all that bad, and the good guy is not the nicest of guys, and the hero brought into the middle has to decide just what is the right thing to do.

Bottomline. I liked it, to an extent. It is still seriously flawed, but the base ideas are sound. Skarsgård and Butler deliver good performances with sub-par material making this hack and slash tale watchable, well, that and the pretty scenery. It is a movie that rises in estimation upon retrospect, while yo are watching it, you may not think all that highly, but consider some of what is told afterwards, you may find yourself liking it more than you thought. Worth a rental, not much more.

Mildly Recommended.


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