Beowulf & Grendel (2005)

by | Nov 2, 2006 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Beowulf & Grendel (2005)

Starring: Gerard Butler, Stellan Skarsgard, Sarah Polley
Studio: Anchor Bay DV72120
Video: 2.35:1 enhanced for 16:9 widescreen, color
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, 2.0, English
Closed captioned
Extras: Audio commentary by director Stula Gunnarsson & screen writer Andrew Rai Berzins, Deleted scenes, Cast interviews, Costume sketches, Featurette: “Wrath of Gods”
Length: 1 hours 43 minutes
Rating: ***1/2

I don’t know if this is the first time a movie has been made based on the first major work of English literature, but surely if it’s been done before it wasn’t on the epic scale of this production.  The medieval adventure/moral tale was shot entirely in Iceland, with the unique landscapes of the country taking a main role in the super-widescreen cinematography. The interviews and featurette in the extras expose the extraordinary rigors the cast and crew had to endure in shooting the film.  For example, they had to call off one day’s shooting (at a loss of about $70,000) due to the winds being so strong that there was danger both actors and crew might be blown off the cliffside on which they were filming.

The Norseman Beowulf, who was born in Denmark, learns about the threat against King Hrothgar there caused by Grendel the murderous troll.  With a band of his warriors he takes off across the Baltic sea to Denmark to kill the troll. He soon learns that the King isn’t such an innocent victim and that he may in fact be responsible for the monstrous troll’s rampages. Beowulf – who is not comfortable with his mythical hero stance (in fact he’s downright modest about it) – becomes interested in the seductive witch Selma and learns from her more of the true story of Grendel.  The plot builds to the final killing of Grendel and Beowulf’s return to his land in the east. An interesting plot thread concerns the beginnings of Christianity coming into the barbarous North of Europe.  Some of the warriors get baptized in the new religion, which a priest has indicated will ensure their victory over Grendel. Even the King, who had denigrated the upstart religion, becomes fearful enough to also convert.

I appreciate the director didn’t try to make this a monster movie because Grendel really isn’t one. The dialog attempts to take the legend out of the dust bin and make it contemporary. I especially liked the king’s line, something like: “Have you had any trouble with trolls over there?”  The raw tale is not always that gripping, but the acting is fine, and the Icelandic scenery is spectacular.  A summary of the film dubbed it “A story of blood and beer and sweat.”  Couldn’t have put it better.

 – John Sunier

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