Monday, 9 December 2013

Advent Calendar 2013: day 9 "Beowulf and Grendel"

Continuing with my genre film advent calendar, we come to "Beowulf and Grendel".

Beowulf and Hrothgar in Heorot

The story of Beowulf and his foe Grendel is a classic which is perhaps known widely throughout the world.  It is important to consider with this film is that it uses the original text as a springboard for bringing its own interpretation to the tale, which although not completely faithful to the original text, does retain some elements of the original tale. There is of course an expected battle between Beowulf and Grendel, and subsequently a fight with Grendel's mother, but the key difference is with Grendel. Hrothgar is played perfectly by Stellan Skarsgård, whilst Beowulf appears less as an epic hero than as a confident mercenary full of bluster, and Gerard Butler does well to play him like this, reminding us that Beowulf was a man who had troubles of his own. Indeed, when one of Beowulf's men wantonly desecrates Grendel's cave, nothing is said by Beowulf, only a look of disappointment is given by him, showing perhaps some weakness.

Where the film differs is with the introduction of Selma, a confident local witch (who has a significant role later in the film), and the way Grendel is portrayed. An initial scene of a troll (Grendel's father) and a bearded child (Grendel, years before the action of the main part of the film) is staged to inspire sympathy for the character of Grendel, but it doesn't. I only gain sympathy for Grendel in his appearances as an adult. We next see Grendel then, grown up, with a blood thirst for those in Heorot. It is also worth noting that Grendel appears less as a monster (as other portrays have played him) than a mentally deficient self-harming outsized human, who has bad teeth and is about a foot taller than the humans in the film, and is bearded as a child. This may suggest that the supernatural elements of the original story are not present in this film version, but there are, and they are just brief.

When the expected battle with Grendel in Heorot finally comes, it is disappointing that the battle is over in about two minutes of screen-time. The time similarly is brief for the fight with Grendel's mother. It is worth noting that the honour Beowulf gives to Grendel after the "monster" is slain is quite moving.

One of the key characters in this film is the landscape itself. Filmed in Iceland, the beautiful, powerful landscape lends a rugged and believable edge to the film and the precarious life of the Danes and the Icelandic ponies are wonderful as they tölt along. As for the great hall itself, it is probably the best imagining of Heorot I have ever seen.

It is a beautiful film, and although the battle scenes are disappointing, it is a film worth watching.

If you'd like to buy a copy from Amazon UK, just click here.