I certainly take my hat off the the cast for living through the shooting of this one: one message this film gets across big style is that Iceland is mind-buggeringly cold, inhospitable place, and that’s just in the Autumn. Sadly, however, Gerard Butler and company’s sacrifice in wading through mud, icy rivers and horizontal sleet is spent all in the name of … well, if truth be told, a fairly humdrum sword and sorcery treatment.
Gunnarson describes Beowulf as the oldest piece of literature in the English language, and it’s a pity he didn’t leave it well alone (there’s a good reason literature survives 1500 years). Instead, the script undermines the linear hero myth which Beowulf helped create – a straight fight between good and evil – by giving Grendel a moral basis, namely vengeance for the Danes’ killing of his father. In the original, Grendel was simply angered by the Danes’ loud and boozy singing! Butler’s Beowulf is converted, therefore, into a confused and decidely post modern sort of a hero, one who isn’t really sure who he’s fighting, why, or what the hell is really going on. I don’t think this was a particularly smart variation from the original plot.
Save for the airfares to Iceland, the budget is staggeringly low: the cast seems to number about eight (then again, it’s quite conceivable the remainder fled to the airport after the first day of principal photography), and are obliged to gallivant around on undoubtedly hardy but all the same squat little Icelandic ponies; this equine inadequacy, together with several other establishing and action shots, calling unfortunately to mind Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Whilst given the conditions I suppose they could hardly be blamed, there is still a marked reluctance to indulge in second takes, to the point where at least one take of a combatant beginning to bleed before being stabbed and a take of Hrothgar’s queen attempting to storm icily off, only to stumble clumsily over some tussock, make the final edit of the film.
Nor are make up, special effects or editing much to write home about: action scenes are clumsily cut and gore and clearly rubber limbs, heads etc. are unconvincingly sprayed around, particularly towards the end.
There are some positives: the scenery is certainly momentous and moody, and Gerard Butler is a charismatic and convincing lead, but all in all it isn’t surprising this one didn’t take off at the box office, and in the final analysis the fact I had to order the DVD from Amazon Canada (it being an Icelanding-Canadian co-production), with neither the US nor the UK carrying the film, kind of figures.
Director: Sturla Gunnarsson
Stars: Hringur Ingvarsson, Spencer Wilding, Stellan Skarsgård
Runtime: 103 min
Country: Canada, UK, Iceland, USA, Australia