Beowulf & Grendel
directed by Sturla Gunnarsson
(Arclight, 2005)

There's a brief, rather aimless featurette among the special features of the Beowulf & Grendel DVD that explains how hard the cast and crew of this film worked in really awful weather. I feel bad for them, really, because with so much effort at stake, I'd like to say they put together a solid movie experience.

Unfortunately, Beowulf & Grendel is a mess, an incomprehensible reinterpretation of the ancient Scandinavian legend of the hero, Beowulf, and his bloodthirsty opponent. Even the dialogue -- mumbled through a blend of English, Irish and Nordic accents -- is often hard to understand, and the DVD sadly lacks subtitles.

The movie stars Gerard Butler as the Geat hero Beowulf, and he works hard with the material provided. But he cannot rise above the level of the script, some bad plot choices and mediocre acting around him.

Ingvar Eggert Sigurdsson is Grendel, the troll -- or, in this case, some kind of throwback Neanderthal who wreaks terrible vengeance on the Danes because his daddy, the caveman, was killed. Stellan Skarsgard is King Hrothgar, the warlord who retreats into drunkenness when he cannot beat -- or even catch up to -- his foe, while Eddie Marsan plays Brendan, a rather pointless Irish priest who is part comic relief and part annoying prat. Sarah Polley, a talented actress, is entirely wasted as Selma the witch/whore; she apparently realized early on that she'd made a bad career move and didn't waste any effort acting or even speaking in anything but her native Canadian accent.

Probably the less said about the sea-hag, a kind of pale mertroll played by Elva Osk Olafsdottir, the better.

For any anthropology students in the audience, the most useful scene in the movie teaches us that Neanderthals had no real concept of foreplay, and that caveman sex was a brief and joyless experience. But the movie draws no new conclusions from the grand epic that is Beowulf and adds nothing to its mythology. It simply strips the story of all magic and emotion and gives us a story in which no one really wins and no one (on screen or in the audience) is very happy.

The costumes and settings, on the other hand, are perfect, but damn, it looks like the weather was harsh.

by Tom Knapp
16 December 2006

Buy it from