For the book, see Beowulf and Grendel (book).
Beowulf & Grendel is a 2005 film Canadian-Icelandicfantasyadventure film directed by Sturla Gunnarsson, loosely based on the Anglo-Saxon epic poemBeowulf. It stars Gerard Butler as Beowulf, Stellan Skarsgård as Hrothgar, Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson as Grendel and Sarah Polley as the witch Selma. The screenplay was written by Andrew Rai Berzins. The soundtrack was composed by Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson. While some of the film remains true to the original poem, other plot elements deviate from the original poem: four new characters, Grendel's father, the witch Selma, Father Brendan, and Grendel's son are introduced, and several related plot points were developed specifically for the film.
The film is a cooperative effort between Eurasia Motion Pictures (Canada), Spice Factory (UK), and Bjolfskvida (Iceland), and it was filmed in Iceland. The story takes place in the early half of the sixth century AD in what is now Denmark, but the filming of the movie in Iceland provided many panoramic views of that country's landscape. In 2006, a documentary of the making of Beowulf and Grendel, called Wrath of Gods, was released and went on to win six film awards in Europe and the U.S.
In 500 A.D., Hrothgar, king of Denmark, and a group of warriors chase a large and burly man, whom they consider a troll, and his young son, to the edge of a steep seaside cliff. The father directs his young son, Grendel, to hide from the attackers' view; whereupon The Danes shoot the father dead, and his dead body plunges onto the beach far below. The Danish king sees the young Grendel, but spares him. Later, Grendel finds his father's body and cuts the head off to take it home. Many years later, the severed (and mummified) head is inside a cave where the boy Grendel has become as large and powerful as his father, and plans revenge.
When Hrothgar finds twenty of his warriors killed inside his great hall, the Danish king falls into a depression. Beowulf, with the permission of Hygelac, king of Geatland, sails to Denmark with thirteen Geats to slay Grendel for Hrothgar. The arrival of Beowulf and his warriors is welcomed by Hrothgar, but the king's village has fallen into a deep despair and many of the pagan villagers convert to Christianity at the urging of an Irish monk. While Grendel does raid Hrothgar's village during the night, he flees rather than fight. Selma the witch tells Beowulf that Grendel will not fight him because Beowulf has committed no wrong against him.
A villager, recently baptized and thus now unafraid of death, leads Beowulf and his men to the cliff above Grendel's cave. When the villager is found dead, Beowulf and his men return with a rope and gain entry to Grendel's secret cave, where one of Beowulf's men mutilates the mummified head of Grendel's father. That night, Grendel invades Hrothgar's great hall, kills the Geat who desecrated his father's head, and leaps from the second story, but is caught in a trap by Beowulf. Grendel, refusing capture, escapes by severing his captive arm, and dies near the site of his father's death, where his body is claimed by a mysterious webbed hand. Thereafter Hrothgar admits to Beowulf that he had killed Grendel's father for stealing a fish but had spared the child Grendel out of pity. Grendel's severed arm is kept by the Danes as a trophy. In revealing more about Grendel, Selma recounts that Grendel had once clumsily raped her and has protected her since that day; and Beowulf becomes her paramour.
The Danes are later attacked by Grendel's mother, the Sea Hag; and Beowulf slays her with a sword from among her treasure, and then notices that the battle was being observed by child of Grendel and Selma. Later Beowulf, with Grendel's son watching, buries Grendel with ceremony. Shortly thereafter, Beowulf and his band of Geats leave Denmark by ship, having warned Selma that she must hide her son, lest the Danes destroy him.
The film attempts to retell the classic tale as a historical epic. Andrew Rai Berzins, in his blog, states that he intended that Grendel resemble a sasquatch. Other viewers feel that Grendel and his father are remnants of Neanderthals survived in isolated populations in the far north. Beowulf as presented constantly doubts the Danes' assertion (and later, that of his own men) that the troll is purely evil. Accordingly, Beowulf deeply regrets the need to destroy Grendel.
Another theme of the film is that of Christianity's introduction into pagan civilization. As Grendel's reign of terror continues with no end in sight, the people of the village turn away from their Norse gods, which seem to offer no help, to the Christian Jesus, who they are told forgives all.
The film received generally mixed and average reviews from critics; it scored 53% at Metacritic and 48% at Rotten Tomatoes. Most critics praised the film's cinematography, its brutal action sequences, and aspects of its revisionist script, but criticised the dialogue and some of the acting.
William Arnold of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer writes, "The film's near-fatal flaw is its dialogue, which had to be invented wholesale from the Old English text. It alternates between sounding stagy and anachronistically hip – with more overuse of the F-word than any two Samuel L. Jackson movies. It's a big mistake." Nevertheless, Arnold eventually recommends the film for "keeping its strain of rowdiness and violence in control, and lending the tale the kind of somber respect filmmakers tend to give adaptations of Shakespeare and Dickens."
Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly commends director Gunnarsson for his "[focus] on the more interesting psychology of tribalism."Bill Gallo of Village Voice writes, "It's good, bloody fun that stirs the intellect whenever it feels like it, and as a swashbuckler, the dead-game Butler outswings just about anyone in Troy or Kingdom of Heaven or Tristan & Isolde."
Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle says, "Imagine the worst Deadwood episode ever, and you'll get an idea of the general tone of Beowulf & Grendel, which is full of anachronistic cursing, tortured syntax, dark humor and lots of hairy, homely, filthy-looking people. The filmmakers get their point across in about 30 minutes, leaving 70 more for severed heads and period charm. There's no charm."
Todd McCarthy of Variety (magazine) agrees, writing, "Director Sturla Gunnarsson seems aware of the savagery intrinsic to the story, but is unable to mine it deeply, proving too genteel in the end to make a genuinely creepy or disturbing film."Liam Lacey of The Globe and Mail concludes, "The movie is a lumbering and ludicrous mess."
In the name of the mighty Odin, what this movie needs is an audience that knows how to laugh. Laugh, I tell you, laugh! Has the spirit of irony been lost in the land? By all the gods, if it were not for this blasted infirmity that the Fates have dealt me, you would have heard from me such thunderous roars as to shake the very Navy Pier itself down to its pillars in the clay.
To be sure, when I saw "Beowulf" in 3-D at the giant-screen IMAX theater, there were eruptions of snickers here and there, but for the most part, the audience sat and watched the movie, not cheering, booing, hooting, recoiling, erupting or doing anything else unmannerly. You expect complete silence and rapt attention when a nude Angelina Jolie emerges from the waters of an underground lagoon. But am I the only one who suspects that the intention of director Robert Zemeckis and writers Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary was satirical?
Truth in criticism: I am not sure Angelina Jolie was nude. Oh, her character was nude, all right, except for the shimmering gold plating that obscured certain crucial areas, but was she Angelina Jolie? Zemeckis, who directed the wonderful "The Polar Express," has employed a much more realistic version of the same animation technology in "Beowulf." We are not looking at flesh-and-blood actors but special effects that look uncannily convincing, even though I am reasonably certain that Angelina Jolie does not have spike-heeled feet. That's right: feet, not shoes.
The movie uses the English epic poem, circa 700 A.D., as its starting point, and resembles the original in that it uses a lot of the same names. It takes us to the Danish kingdom of King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins), where the king and his court have gathered to inaugurate a new mead hall, built for the purpose of drinking gallons of mead. The old hall was destroyed by the monster Grendel, whose wretched life consists of being the ugliest creature on earth, and destroying mead halls.
To this court comes the heroic Geatsman named Beowulf (Ray Winstone), who in the manner of a Gilbert & Sullivan hero is forever making boasts about himself. He is the very model of a medieval monster slaughterer. (A Geatsman comes from an area of today's Sweden named Gotaland, which translates, Wikipedia helpfully explains, as "land of the Geats.") When the king offers his comely queen Wealthow (Robin Wright Penn) as a prize if Beowulf slays Grendel, the hero immediately strips naked, because if Grendel wears no clothes, then he won't, either. This leads to a great deal of well-timed Austinpowerism, which translates (Wikipedia does not explain) as "putting things in the foreground to keep us from seeing the family jewels." Grendel arrives on schedule to tear down the mead hall, and there is a mighty battle which is rendered in gory and gruesome detail, right down to cleaved skulls and severed limbs.
Now when I say, for example, that Sir Anthony plays Hrothgar, or John Malkovich plays Beowulf's rival Unferth, you are to understand that they supply voices and the physical performances for animated characters who look more or less like they do. (Crispin Glover, however, does not look a thing like Grendel, and if you are familiar with the great British character actor Ray Winstone you will suspect he doesn't have six-pack abs.) Variety reports that Paramount has entered "Beowulf" in the Academy's best animated film category, which means nothing is really there, realistic as it may occasionally appear. I saw the movie in IMAX 3-D, as I said, and like all 3-D movies it spends a lot of time throwing things at the audience: Spears, blood, arms, legs, bodies, tables, heads, mead, and so forth. The movie is also showing in non-IMAX 3-D, and in the usual 2-D. Not bad for a one-dimensional story.
But I'm not complaining. I'm serious when I say the movie is funny. Some of the dialog sounds like Monty Python. No, most of the dialog does. "I didn't hear him coming," a wench tells a warrior. "You'll hear me," he promises. Grendel is ugly beyond all meaning. His battles are violent beyond all possibility. His mother (Jolie) is like a beauty queen in centerfold heaven. Her own final confrontation with Beowulf beggars description. To say the movie is over the top assumes you can see the top from here.
Now about the PG-13 rating. How can a movie be rated PG-13 when it has female nudity? I'll tell you how. Because Angelina Jolie is not really there. And because there are no four-letter words. Even Jolie has said she's surprised by the rating; the British gave it a 12A certificate, which means you can be a year younger and see it over there. But no, Jolie won't be taking her children, she told the BBC: "It's remarkable it has the rating it has. It's quite an extraordinary film, and some of it shocked me."
Here's the exact wording from the MPAA's Code people: "Classified PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence including disturbing images, some sexual material and nudity)." How does that compare with a PG rating? Here's the MPAA's wording on "Bee Movie": "Classified PG (for mild suggestive humor and a brief depiction of smoking)." I have news for them. If I were 13, Angelina Jolie would be plenty nude enough for me in this movie, animated or not. If I were 12 and British, who knows?