Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 43 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Violence, Language and some Sexuality
Directed by: Sturla Gunnarsson
Written by: Andrew Rai Berzins
(based on the epic poem BEOWULF)
Starring: Gerard Butler, Stellan Skarsgard, Sarah Polley, Ingvar Sigurdsson & Tony Curran
It seems like the epic poem of BEOWULF cannot be adapted properly into the cinematic medium. This problem seems to stem from filmmakers and screenwriters feeling the need to put their own “unique” spin on the beloved source material, while neglecting that the script practically writes itself. The epic poem serves as a blueprint for current tales of heroism and fantasy, but everybody has to put their unneeded little twist on it. BEOWULF & GRENDEL is a supposedly more humanized version of BEOWULF that comes off as contrived, frequently dull and poorly constructed in every sense. It’s not that a little creativity on old material can’t be a good thing, but this movie is a shoddy mess all around.
The time is 500 A.D. and the place is Denmark. King Hrothgar has just slain a troll on the edge of his land. The troll’s young son witnesses the bloody affair and hides in the seclusion of nearby caves. Years pass and the young troll has grown up into a powerful beast named Grendel. In that enormous period of time, Grendel has plotted his revenge against Hrothgar’s kingdom. As bodies pile up and the king drinks himself into a stupor, the heroic Beowulf comes to the shores with the intentions of slaying Grendel. However, the situation soon appears more complex than originally thought. Beowulf starts to realize that maybe Grendel isn’t the monster that everyone is making him out to be, but a bloody deed must be completed before Beowulf can sail back home.
If there were a single compliment that I could give BEOWULF & GRENDEL, it would be about the locations. The film was shot in Iceland and the landscapes are simply beautiful. This lone positive quality makes the rest of the film feel like the giant cinematic disaster that it is. The production values appear to be fairly cheap, but that’s no excuse for poorly executed scenes that become unintentionally hilarious at points. Take for example when a rubber-looking webbed hand casually comes out of the ocean and caresses Beowulf’s face. The moment almost seems like it was intended as a jolt-worthy scare, but plays off in a passive way. The editing looks hastily glued together, especially during the final conflict. When it’s not cheesy or stupid enough to be unintentionally comedic, the pacing of the film really drags this whole thing down. Despite whatever new spin is put on the material, one thing is for certain: BEOWULF should never be boring. This film has two modes: dumb and dull. That’s about it.
Aside from awful production values and wasted locations, the acting is beyond bad from everybody. The dialogue is riddled with so much swearing that it becomes distracting. If curse words are to be used in the dialogue, they should feel like they’re a natural part of the character who happens to be saying them. It feels like the frequent F-bombs were really the only thing that got this film the R rating as the violence and sex are surprisingly tame. Gerard Butler portrays Beowulf as a bland guy who doesn’t seem the least bit heroic or someone worth caring about. He’s wooden delivery of “I am Beowulf” made me chuckle a few times. I mean, even Ray Winstone put emotion into those lines in 2007’s misguided animated adaptation and he was a cartoon character. Stellan Skarsgard chews the scenery as the drunken king. Two unneeded characters come in the forms of Sarah Polley as a witch and Eddie Marsan as a cowardly Christian missionary. Finally, the portrayal of Grendel merely consists of a guy in heavy make-up who occasionally yells out a bit of gibberish, pensively stares off in the distance, and (I kid you not) plays a game of bowling with human skulls on a cliff.
I’m not completely opposed to a creative take on the age-old tale of BEOWULF, but it would be nice to see a proper adaptation grace the screen as well. Even though there might have been creative liberties taken in this film that could have possibly played off well in other hands, this movie fails at everything it’s trying to do. I didn’t feel an ounce of sympathy towards Grendel or any emotion for any given character in the film. I was bored instead of excited. The locations are gorgeous, but wasted on a poorly written screenplay. Even though Syfy produced its own take on the material (simply titled GRENDEL), BEOWULF & GRENDEL feels very much like it deserves regular airings on the Syfy Channel. The only bit of entertainment I got from this film was when a crew member accidentally wandered onto a scene that occurred 18 minutes into the running time and then quickly darted off as soon as he realized the camera was filming. BEOWULF & GRENDEL is that kind of failure.