M O V I E ★★★
V I D E O ★★★☆ ３and half
A U D I O ★★★★
E X T R A S ★★★☆ ３and half
R E P L A Y ★★
A D V I C E Rent It
Sturla Gunnarsson's Beowulf & Grendel asks a fairly interesting
question: What if the ferocious beastie from the ancient poem was not a
mindless brute or animalistic killing machine -- but instead was a big,
hairy, terribly misunderstood giant who was just really pissed off at
the guys who killed his father?
That's the question at the heart of this newest and most democratic
look at the old-old-school epic adventure, and (barring a handful of
really slow spots) it makes for a pretty diverting new movie. The cast
is pretty strong, the look of the film is surprisingly effective, and
the story moves along at a fairly appreciable clip ... for the most
Gerard Butler stars as legendary hero Beowulf, the man who shows up to
help drunken King Hrothgar (Stellan Skarsgard) rid his countryside of a
ravenous, murdering ... something. "Troll" is what the bloodthirsty
Grendel is most commonly referred to, but as a strangely haunting
prologue informs us, Grendel might just have a pretty good reason for
his murderous ways.
Toss into the equation a saucy young witch, a babbling priest, and some
truly stunning Icelandic cinematography, and you've got a surprisingly
watchable flick on your hands -- even if a few of the performances
skirt dangerously close to Uwe Boll territory. (Sarah Polley's witch
character almost comes off as parody, and there's a weird amount of
anachronistic profanity laced throughout the movie.)
But it's pretty clear that this particular version of Beowulf &
Grendel was crafted with a half-decent budget and a lot of good
intentions. It's not a dry and chat-heavy period piece, and it's not a
low-budget hack-'em-up action-fest. More like a little from both
columns, which means that if you normally dig this sort of olde-school
adventure tale, you'll probably find enough to enjoy here. Purists,
however, should stay far away, as Gunnarsson takes more than a few
liberties with the source material.
Anchor Bay delivers
the limited release/festival flick in a generally solid anamorphic
widescreen (2.35:1) transfer. The (rare) colors look fine and the
landscapes are lovely, but darker shades tend to blur together on
Dolby Digital 5.1.
Solid audio presentation. (English captions, not subtitles.)
Par for the Anchor Bay course, the platter comes with an impressive
array of extra goodies:
Director Sturla Gunnarsson, screenwriter Andrew Berzins, first
assistant director Wendy Ord, and costume designer Debra Hanson provide
an amiable audio commentary that focuses on the hazards of A) taking
new liberties with such a well-known tale, and B) shooting a movie in
the harsh climates of Iceland.
Wrath of Gods is a ten-minute collection of excerpts from a
feature-length documentary film about the making of Beowulf &
Grendel. Also included are 26 minutes of cast & crew interviews
(Butler, Gunnarsson, Skarsgard, Berzins and producer Paul Stephens), a
handful of costume artwork and sketches, a storyboard comparison, and
about nine minutes of deleted scenes.
Rounding out the disc are some trailers for Beowulf & Grendel,
Heartstopper, and Dan Aykroyd: Unplugged on UFOs.
I expected the flick to be either "low-budget silly" or "film festival
stuffy," and was surprised to realize it was actually a fairly
compelling mixture of both. If you're looking for a film that
"faithfully" tells the Beowulf tale, you should probably look
elsewhere, but if you're game for a strange and beautiful-looking new
version of the story, you can safely give this one a rental.
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