Directed by Nick Lyon
SciFi Channel is worse than the monsters in the films it continues to pump out at a hypersonic rate. At least in their films, the monster dies at the end after killing off most of the cast. In reality, SciFi Channel cannot be stopped, and no matter how many of their films are taken down, the network remains strong and continues to send its armies against the good people of the world. Whenever the people are in danger, there will always be heroes who rise to the challenge to fight the monsters. Once again, the Dragon Slayers have mobilized to take on a creature sewing destruction upon the lands. In this case, that monster is Grendel, based on the epic poem Beowulf. Based on may be too kind of a word. Grendel shares some of the same character names as Beowulf, and some of the same plot. The details change, a lot. To the point that one wonders if they read the original poem, or even the Cliff Notes. Heck, had they watched the Star Trek Voyager episode about Beowulf they would have been more accurate. Instead, we have some sort of super-crossbow that fires explosive rockets.
A few brief notes on the literary wonder that is Beowulf. With events taking place in the late 5th through early 6th centuries A.D. Beowulf gives a glimpse into a period rich with battles, heroes and epic lore. One of the few surviving epics in Old English it is often referred to as, "The Oldest English Epic". Beloved by scholars it inspired Tolkien (who was an authority on the text) and many another author. It has, surprisingly seen little attention on film, the Christopher Lambert film of the name was a futuristic SciFi piece with little relation to the epic. 2005’s Beowulf & Grendel reworked the source material to tell a moralistic tale with Grendel as a misunderstood primitive. It received mixed reviews (Iain says, "I liked it for the most part"). A motion capture adaptation is to be released in 2007, this appears to be attempting to stick within the vein of epic.
TarsTarkas.NET and FantasyFilmscapes.com are doing another tag-team review. As usual, the opening segment is collaborative, after that, we will be alternating every 15 minutes of film between Tars Tarkas from here and Iain Norman from FantasyFilmscapes.com. Once you have gone through this version of the review, be sure to drop by FantasyFilmscapes.com’s version, with different pictures, different formatting, and plenty of other content on that site as well. Now let’s begin:
The first section is handled by Tars Tarkas, aka me. We begin as a narrator (Finn) tells us some things about Beowulf. Beowulf is great. Beowulf is mighty. Beowulf is a man. A manly man, with manparts. Beowulf and his men go to where a beast has been attacking men for over a year. The local villager Rafel leads them to a cave, and Beowulf takes off his helmet and goes into the cave alone (what is the point of bringing a bunch of men if you just go in solo without armor?) As Beowulf explores the cavern, we see something moving. It’s the Boa from Boa vs. Python! Unexpected cameo! Beowulf doesn’t hear the giant snake making a bunch of noise sneaking up on him, but does manage to see the snake’s reflection in his sword, and swings around blindly, luckily managing to sever the head of the Boa. It bounces around on the ground (an effect the director seems to enjoy throughout the film.) and everyone chants Beowulf’s name.
Beowulf goes to see his King, who says Beowulf is cool and all, but now he is to go on his greatest quest, to kill the Grendel, which brought a nation to its knees. We also learn that Beowulf’s protégé Finn is the nephew of the King, and at first the King doesn’t want him to go. Finn whines, but Beowulf manages to convince the King by saying Finn will not be put in harm’s way. The King the presents a new weapon to Beowulf, a gigantic compound crossbow that shoot explosive missile weapons. Now, every single medieval movie that comes out has some nutbag who comes up with magic Chinese black powder in order to cram explosions into the films, but Grendel doesn’t even bother explaining how this weapon was invented. My theory is that history has been altered, due to crazy Time Travelers. The presence of Counselor Deanna Troi also supports my theory. These Time Travelers want to destroy history by altering how classical stories played out, in order to try to capture the imagination of the MTV generation in school. Beowulf gets a rocket launcher. King Arthur gets a motorcycle. George Washington is given a mechanized battle suit that he uses at the Battle of Brandywine. Abe Lincoln becomes a werewolf by night and hunts down General Lee, who is also driving an orange Dodge Charger. This is still a theory, I am working on proof.
Back to the film, where Beowulf tests his new weapon by blowing up a dingy (were there dingies back then?) and then they set sail for Denmark. One of Beowulf’s men named Sigmund is also sort of psychic and senses the storm may cause trouble. Beowulf tells Finn that King Hrothgar of Denmark was once a good man before Grendel ruined the kingdom. Finn says he thinks it is all just stories, an odd thing to say since he’s seen Beowulf kill giant snakes and stuff. Beowulf goes on a rant about how when a man meets his end, all he has left is his story. Then we jump into a flashback of King Hrothgar being a fierce warrior and deciding to build a big hall larger than any building created at that time, named Heorot. King Hrothgar just wanders through the city as all their subjects constantly cheer for him. At his castle, his wife Queen Onela (Deanna Troi) and his two sons join him and they all get cheered on even more. The people have a big party after Heorot is built, and Grendel hears the Danish party animals and gets upset at their mirth. Or that fact he’s CGI. Either way, he storms off to the castle to smash some Danes. He gets in the castle at night while everyone is asleep (why bother having guards?) and kills several people. We are told “Morning brought mourning,” which is a pun so terrible it will probably have its own SciFi Channel movie soon. Grendel returns “night after night after night after night.” He also kills soldiers out looking for him. Eventually, Queen Onela goes nuts in a Lady MacBeth fashion, and King Hrothgar ages beyond his years so he looks like James Cromwell. The King leaves Heorot, and sends his sons to fight. Prince Unferth becomes a coward and runs away from the battle, leaving his brother Prince Wren to die. Please note how the King hasn’t done any fighting at all. His army seems to be composed of like 10 men at most, none of which know how to stay away on guard shift. As the flashback ends, my time is up, and I switch it over to Iain at FantasyFilmscapes.com.
Thanks… or not, I am biased I will admit. You see I hate this piece of crap. With that out of the way… The mad Queen Onela sees that the moon is half full and goes gaga. She reminds me a little of a left over vampire extra. Anyway off she hops to tell the king the great news. No, not about the moon but that she’s had a vision of men coming to help them out of their turmoil. And get this, not just any men but, "noble men." By the end of this scene Ben Cross looks scared – no doubt wondering if the paycheck was worth Bulgaria and crazed ex-Trekkies.
Back on Beowulf’s ship (the same ship that’s in Dragon Dynasty by the way) a storm is raging. People run around and mumble things, Beowulf points and waves while utter nautical one liners. Then he comes to the genius conclusion that the gods are angry because Finn came with them. Maybe they should have checked the weather oracle? Suddenly we are out on the calm seas again and Daneland is in sight! Prince Unferth is stomping around the local coastal fort and takes a small interest in the approaching ship with vague lines about having a, "surprise for them" he stomps around obviously wondering why he agreed to be in this film. The Geats come ashore in their lovely horned helmets and start tromping up the coast and into the woods.
Strolling through the foliage the Geats realize they are being followed but they are not attacked. Then…. movement in the bushes! So our brave group huddles together and peers around them. Beowulf barks out, "formation, circular", a man of few words I guess and little sentence construction. The camera is then spun around a few times to ensure we are properly disoriented and Grendel pops out. He is large and looks like a slightly more hairy version of the Hulk. The rendering is terrible the effect lame rather than frightening. He hops about a bit stomping and roaring giving Beowulf time to set up his rocket crossbow. Beowulf gets off a shot, misses from around 20ft but manages to scare off Grendel for the time being.
Now the Danes show up with archers and demand to know what’s happening. Beowulf explains to Unferth. More rahrah happens when it’s found out that this is THE Beowulf and they all march off to see king Hrothgar. They arrive at Herot which looks rather Roman and is built out of stone instead of wood. Ben Cross sits on his throne and gets paid to ham it up. More rahrah about Beowulf ensues, enough already folks, we get the idea he supposed to be great. Hrothgar rambles on a bit about how rotten everything is for him. But fear not! Beowulf is here to, "restore glory to your kingdom".
Hrothgar asks the obvious, "How will you do this?" and Beowulf responds with this gem, "By killing Grendel once and for all." Well I’m sure no one else ever thought of doing that… actually Hrothgar points out that this has hardly been a successful venture up to this point. Unferth jumps in about how Beowulf has a new weapon and everyone goes gaga about the crossbow. Back to you Tars.
Thanks, Iain. The plan is to go to Herot and party down, hoping to drive Grendel to attack later so they can kill him, as well as maybe scoring some noblewoman tail. Grendel won’t go near the throne, as God would strike him dead. Everyone is keen on the party, saying “Hail, Beowulf” ninety-thousand times. We then cut to the actual party, which looks like the cast party for a Shakespeare play. Most of Beowulf’s men are drunk, which is something you really want when you are about to attack a fierce monster. There is also a Clown-Mime thing dancing around, which is scarier than any CGI monster because he is real and clowns are terrifying. Queen Counselor Troi introduces Ingrid to Finn, and Finn wins her heart by telling stories about how his family was killed and how he is the nephew of the king, but will never be king himself.
Prince Unferth is drunker than every other guest put together, and takes out his anger at not being with Ingrid on the visiting men, especially Beowulf. We know Beowulf is the hero because he doesn’t get drunk, and tries to calmly help Prince Unferth make less of a fool of himself. He tries to draw his sword on Beowulf, but Beowulf tells him “sometimes it is best to take a nap,” and then punches him out. Beowulf then tells a story about King Brecka and a swimming competition. I can’t take much more of this. Grendel, attack, you idiot! Spare us from this crappy characterization! Finally, Grendel gets off his fat CGI butt and comes just as Prince Unferth wakes up and Beowulf tries to make peace with him again.
What the—Clown-Mime??? They are using the Clown-Mime to lure Grendel in? Kill, him, Grendel! Kill the clown! KILLLLLLL!!!!! Sadly, the Clown-Mime escapes, off to terrorize another country, probably Finland. Grendel comes in, and the heroes ignite a ring of fire around him, but Beowulf can’t hit anything with the rocket launcher crossbow and thus misses Grendel. Is there no target-lock device on this contraption? No heat-seeking missiles? I’m sure they are already being designed for the next version. The battle continues as Iain takes over….
How long is this thing? 84 minutes? Bloody hell… So as Tars has related there is a big battle. Deciding that technical aspects of long range weapons seem to be a bit dodgy, Beowulf pulls out his sword and goes hand-to-hand with the beast. To be honest this could have been a cool fight. Actually it almost is in that it’s about 30% better than any other SciFi Original creature fight. In reality this means we’ve upgraded from PS1 to PS2 graphics. The fact that Grendel jumps around the air like a demented puppet and obviously fails to hit a single man, woman, or child (making you wonder how he killed anybody in the first place) should not detract from the obvious coolness. Whom am I trying to kid, this is just wretched. The cinematographer seemed to have some idea of what was happening, a pity he couldn’t relay that on to the viewers…
Various people hit Grendel with various weapons until Grendel finally manages to rip the innards out of some old chap. Finn joins the fight which means Beowulf grabs that damn crossbow (again) tries to protect him, misses Grendel (does this thing ever connect?) and the creature runs off.
Unferth rags on Beowulf a bit for the messy courtyard and reminds him he did kinda promise to kill the thing. Inside Finn is getting a little cut on the head tended to by Ingrid (by little I mean about 2 inches long) when Beowulf shows up for a chat. Oops the cut just vanished in the next shot! There is various back and forth about Finn staying safe, responsibility and blah, blah, blah. Make it end please, please!
Now it’s time for Beowulf to go see the king again. He’s also not so happy, Grendel is attacking villages again. Beowulf whips out a little speech about fear and hatred and blah, blah blah…. Basically nothing is his fault, it’s all Grendel! The king likes him again and decides to tell him the reason that Grendel is such a pain in the ass. There’s a daaaaaaaaark secret. Which Queen Onela doesn’t really want spread around but who listens to their crazy wives anyway?
So here’s the deal ya’ll. A long time ago Grendel’s mother arrived and killed a lot of people. Nobody could stop her. The previous king made a pact with her and built a nice little altar and every full moon she got a nice juicy morsel of manflesh. Such an exciting secret. So anyway one day she disappeared to give birth to her son, Grendel. So nice king Hrothgar renewed the pact with Grendel and started giving out the kiddies. Only after he ran out of the tidbits did Grendel start attacking Herot.
So Beowulf is commanded to go hunting again because if he doesn’t return Hrothgar will start up the sacrifices again. Finn is left behind this time. The plan is to use fire against the creature. This includes catapults and various other forms of weaponry. The idea is to nail the creature inside it’s lair. This will bring Grendel out into the open so that Beowulf can have another go with that stupid crossbow. I can’t wait so see that. Well I can’t because Grendel doesn’t come out to play so Beowulf goes looking for him. Of course young Finn chooses this cosmically significant time to show up.
In the woods Beowulf valiantly attempts not to catch the horns of his helmet on any vines while trying to look brave and alert. It’s a very difficult combination. We see some dead bodies and skulls…. and…. we see….. times up. Tars will have to tell you.
Thanks, Iain. As the men use the catapult to fire explosives blowing up half the forest (why do these medieval films always have more explosions that all of World War 2?) Grendel comes out and starts slaughtering Beowulf’s men. Beowulf takes an extraordinary long time to run back from his searching to save his men, and by then Grendel has either killed or wounded all of them except Finn. Finn charges Grendel, and is knocked aside as well, but this time Beowulf can give an overly-long “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!” scream. Getting the eyes of his men off of him was just what Beowulf needed to gain some confidence, and he fires the rocket launcher/crossbow and hits Grendel square on, setting the beast ablaze. Beowulf runs up, stabs Grendel in the heart, and then chops off his arm for good measure (I am guessing because in the poem Beowulf rips off Grendel’s arm.) Beowulf then causes Grendel to lose his head over the ordeal, and soon Beowulf is presenting the head and arm to the king. Also, Finn is not dead. Hurrah, I guess.
It is now time to go, as Beowulf is one to kill and run. Finn and his new girlfriend Ingrid are sad, but Finn vows he will return. It looks like he’ll be returning sooner than later, as Mama Grendel is now in the forest seeing her dead son. Mama Grendel, called Hag, is some sort of bat creature that looks like trouble. Trouble for the CG animators, who can’t decide to give her the movement styles of a human or a bird. In Denmark City, the men of the town are all chanting the king’s name as he has returned to his favorite pastime of just wandering through town while everyone cheers. No wonder monsters attack them, they won’t shut up! Hag is heading toward the town, and the camera is focusing far too much on Ingrid for her to be safe.
And she is not, for Hag attacks, panicking the village and grabbing Ingrid. Luckily, they set up a warning signal to call back Beowulf if something were to happen (they did this off-screen during one of the commercial breaks, which is why you don’t remember it.) Beowulf returns, there is never any drama on if he’ll see the warning or not. Before he gets back, Prince Unferth catches up to Hag and Ingrid, and lives up to his family line by attacking the beast himself. He’ll also be ending his family line as he won’t be returning from this fight. He tries to tell Ingrid to run, but Ingrid just stays put and watches Prince Unferth die fighting. Way to waste his life, sister! She won’t even leave when he is lying on the ground, dying, and tells her to go and that he loved her and hopes Finn makes her happy. Is this sappy enough for you yet?
Speaking of Finn, he comes running around the bend now, somehow having sped ahead of Beowulf because it is dramatic or something. The director goes all arty for a few seconds as he spins the camera from the dead Prince to the two lovers kissing. Hag has stopped doing whatever she was doing while they were talking and came back. Finn now tells Ingrid to run, who runs a whole ten feet or so then watches from behind a tree. Somehow, I think Ingrid was the worst player of Hide and Seek as a kid ever. Finn is taken out easily, and Hag drags him away as Ingrid screams, which should have alerted Hag to her presence so close by, but Hag must follow what the script says to do. The King and Queen arrive (where are the guards? Should I even care that there is no logic in this movie at all?) and find their dead son, and Beowulf also arrives, not seeming to be concerned that Finn somehow managed to get there several minutes before him. Beowulf says he will go get Finn, even when warned that Finn is just bait and Hag wants Beowulf. Because Hag planned all of this, knowing that by attacking Ingrid it would lure Finn who would lure Beowulf. Right. Well, it looks like Iain will be bringing us home, with the final battle between good and evil, and by that I mean the audience and the movie…
Thanks Tars. If this was a good movie the last 15 minutes would be the climax, a chance for the director to redeem the last wasted hour of your life, to showcase a wondrous battle of lore (and epic proportions), need I state that this is very much not the case? How did this movie end up being about Finn? I guess the script writer figured that the original poem was somewhat lacking in the whiny adolescent department and set out to fill the gap. Perhaps there are as many as two people in the world who feel Finn is a necessary character, but surely not more than two…. Before Beowulf takes off Hrothgar lets him know that in the Hag’s cave is a fabled sword, a sword that can kill her. With a parting shout for Beowulf to, “Avenge my son’s death!” Hrothgar lets him go. The legendary sword is sitting on a rock outside the cave all ready Beowulf. Now… maybe this Hag is really stupid, but usually fabled weapons that have the power to destroy aren’t the sort of things you want to leave lying around the entrance to your cave. (in the epic it’s a giant’s sword, a trophy of long forgotten battles hanging on the wall).
To be totally far to the director there’s some sense of style to this sequence. Unfortunately the prop itself is an unwieldy and unrefined piece that looks slapped together. We don’t really get a cave for the signature fight, more of a chasm. Much exploding arrow action ensues until Finn calls out and Beowulf goes to rescue him. Predictably enough the Hag shows up and after losing his ridiculous dollar store dagger Beowulf looks to have had it. Inches from the CGI jaws the creature inexplicably decides to give him a little tap with her wing instead of finishing him off. After whacking him around a bit more she closes for the kill but Finn has gotten enough energy back to grab the crossbow and shoot the creature. Realizing by this point in the film that the weapon has all the accuracy of Mr. Bean with a monkey built sniper rifle, Finn jabs the weapon into the Hag’s back and fires pointblank. Of course the silly ass gets himself blasted across the gorge. This does very little damage to the Hag anyway. Beowulf has come to his senses and goes for the sword. Spinning like a drunk Turkish dancer Beowulf lops of the head of the creature. Dang that was easy, maybe ya should have tried that first? All this could have been worse, it was decently filmed, but the combination of bad costuming, props and CGI just make it laughable. The happy stuff now rolls as Finn narrates away about defining our own destiny. Hmm, original.
My thoughts on this? Besides a mildly engaging climax (which came the closest to actually entertaining me) this film is rot from start to finish. The cinematography is bland, the costuming hilarious (horns on the helmets and all), the props cheap and the story contrived. The original poem has just about everything you need for a good action flick but the makers of this film thought they could improve on it a little. I’m sorry to say that they’ve failed rather horribly. The addition of the character Finn is so superfluous you wonder how it got approved by SciFi. Besides which he has a mullet. I don’t like to get all that picky on locations because I know this films are budget strapped to an extreme, however next time get a few logs and build a hall, not a Romanesque fort. Oh and lose that excuse for a crossbow. If this was to go before a review board of lovers of epic, historical, and fantasy film it would likely receive a Z for “Bastardizing some of the best source material you could ask for and for being mind numbingly boring.” Normally I would make this a more detailed critique but if you really care to crucify me for making a short judgement on this flick go see it for yourself, then let’s talk. If you can stomach remembering it that is. While I like the fact that SciFi gives newcomers to the industry a chance they’ve done much better in the past. 1 out of 5 stars for being generally wretched.
Closing up here, the fact that they ignored 99% of the Beowulf story except a few names means they probably had an already written story, and just crafted it into the Beowulf saga in order to secure some funding sources. That’s the only thing I can think of to justify the terrible mess made when compared to the source material. The crazy rocket launcher in addition to the modern obsession to stuffing as many explosions as possible into stories that take place when gunpowder was still a secret Chinese recipe is a signal of period films to avoid at all costs. You can tell many thrilling tales without needing heat-seeking rockets, and giant monsters running around do not need to be blown up in order to kill them. Put some ingenuity into it! The original Predator was taken out by a log dropped on him by a guy covered in mud; surely writers can come up with some other neat tricks, even without stretching their thinking muscles much. Even that effort is too much for many writers, and combined with producers who think explosions=dollar signs messes like Grendel are born. Luckily, messes like this can also die, if people decide to change the channel. The one weapon left in the audience’s arsenal is but a humble remote, and that is something a thousand super-crossbows can never defeat.
Rated 3/10 (Cameo head, another head, I fell down in a burning ring of fire…)
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