"Beowulf" Movie Review

Beowulf isn't just an experiment in DIY supercomputing; it's also a classic of epic literature from the sixth century. Beowulf the epic is one of the ass-kickingest works of fiction ever put to paper, but fact has largely been hidden from the public eye because, to quote Lake Placid, "they tend to conceal that information in books."

Perhaps it's not so surprising, then, that it's taken the film industry over half a century to get around to creating a film adaptation.

And what an adaptation it is!

Luckily the creators were canny enough to dispense with the first third of the original text, which is about as far as most readers make it before they give up. As for the latter two thirds, well, they mostly dispensed with that, too.

The school of literary criticism known as New Criticism urges you to consider the book as a fully autonomous entity, abstracted from its author and the time in which it was written. I suggest you apply the same theory to Beowulf. Ignore the historical inaccuracies. Overlook the wild divergence from the original text. So what if the stronghold has a PA system and everybody smokes cigars? Get over it! Is it set in the future? Is it set in the past? Who cares?

Beowulf opens as the monster Grendel is tearing into a pack of armed guards inside the dimly-lit castle halls. Cut to an exterior view, where we find that the stronghold is under siege; apparently invaders have decided to wait until Grendel eats everyone, then take the castle for themselves. (Clever!)

A comely lass flees the stronghold, heading for the picket line. The invaders intercept her, and strap her to a giant cutting-in-half machine that looks like a cross between a giant mousetrap and a giant straight razor. Enter Beowulf (Christopher Lambert with close-cropped peroxide hair) to the rescue, and cue techno music!

Through his amazing martial arts prowess and never-ending supply of medieval James Bond-ian killing gadgets, Beowulf triumphs over a small army of bad guys, rescues the damsel in distress, and charges towards the (relative) safety of the stronghold.

The damsel, however, has other ideas; she jumps off Beowulf's horse and runs back towards the invaders. Only slightly daunted by her decision to die rather than return to the stronghold, Beowulf presses on.

Christopher Lambert gives a surprisingly nuanced performance, and puts out an alluring air of dark resignation. (Kevin Sorbo would have been perfectly suited to play the original Beowulf, but I like this Beowulf much better.)

The fellas will be happy to know that Beowulf also stars Rhona Mitra (the original model for Lara Croft) as Kyra, daughter of Hrothgar, mistress of standing-around-looking-pretty. Not to mention Playboy Playmate Layla Roberts as the blonde-haired blue-eyed succubus better known as Grendel's mother.

Despite its willful ignorance of... well, EVERYTHING, Beowulf manages to pull the whole thing off. It's surprisingly fun for being a grim film in a grim setting, with a grim cast of sullen Danes in leather smocks.

Part of its success lies in the consistency of tone, with the exception of the goofily inappropriate techno score that pops up any time there's a fight. I fervently hope this Techno-Beowulf is at the forefront of a new trend in Hollywood, and I avidly await the release of Techno-Canterbury Tales. ("Wyffe hath no beard!") I love this movie. It's like catnip!

Summary: call it Mortal Monster Kombat, if you like. I call it good, clean fun.

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