Beowulf & Grendel Movie Review
The new film Beowulf & Grendel is an attempt to demythologize the battle between these two mythic beings. Here Beowulf (Gerard Butler) is no badass; he's entirely human and very flawed. He's not the unstoppable warrior from the legends but a somewhat skilled and at times very lucky soldier. And Grendel is not the misshapen monster but a lonely Neanderthal with a grudge against mankind. As played by Ingvar Sigurdsson, he's sympathetic (and very hairy) lout. When he's not shouting with rage into the inexplicable heavens, he's bowling with skulls. The title is a dead give away that this isn't going to be your granddad's Beowulf story. The fact that it's "and" and not "versus" means that Beowulf & Grendel has an agenda, and in tune with contemporary mores this agenda involves demonstrating how both Beowulf and Grendel are outsiders. Beowulf isn't really that good and Grendel's just misunderstood. (This is all explained, naturally, by a sexy but socially conscious witch, Selma, herself an outcast, played by the incredibly miscast Sarah Polley (Go).)
Beowulf & Grendel fails because the real battle in the film isn't between the two title titans, it's between free-thinkers and the closed minded. It's all about deconstructing the myth of the hero rather than championing the story. This hobbles everything and the film essentially becomes a simple morality tale -- a fable for the upwardly mobile preschooler set. Here, Beowulf's clashes with Grendel seem almost inconsequential. They're playground tussles because neither side is supposed to win. It's illogical. And the film reaches its absurdist nadir when the proto-feminist Selma is called in to translate Grendel's threats (in a deadpan, too-hip-for-all-y'all American accent) for Beowulf. And what is the big brute saying? According to Selma, You (insert something along the lines of capitalist, misogynist pig) wouldn't understand.
What works in this film is the cinematography. The Icelandic landscapes are breathtaking. Shot in a scope that makes even the smallest television feel like an IMAX screen, the film captures a world that no computer geek at ILM could ever generate -- massive whitecaps crashing against soaring black pillars of rock, enormous icebergs of deep blue and green, endless vistas of rolling hills studded with perilous crags. I recommend watching the film on mute and just taking in the scenery while you play cards or fold laundry.
It's a shame that Beowulf & Grendel is so ridiculous. It could have been a powerful picture. It certainly has the right look and tone. But instead it joins countless other films on the slagheap of needlessly tampered-with stories.