Thursday, December 28, 2006

Review: Beowulf & Grendel

Back in June (trailer and an early review to be found in that post) I was excited about the American release of Beowulf and Grendel, finally. But of course, it never came to Tucson. So I was surprised to find it at Blockbuster of all places.

The reviews have been nearly split, tending toward the "worthy effort, but sucked" side of the scale. I think it was a worthy effort, but that it didn't suck. Film critic Kim Voyner (whose witty husband is a blogger, by the way) wrote a review that I am down with.

My only real problem with the film is that they tried to make an epic tale filled with violence "safe" for a contemporary audience. And they took a few liberties with the plot, but that always happens when a novel, or more rarely an epic poem, is converted to the big screen. Even with those flaws, and the "f-bombs" some reviewers were offended by (prudes!), I liked this movie quite a bit. And as always, even though I liked that Beowulf displays some compassion and a sense of justice, I sided with Grendel, the misunderstood troll seeking revenge for the murder of his father.

The bigger morality tale here is what many reviews have commented on. It seems there is something in human nature, especially in the more primal worldviews that quickly resort to war, that dehumanizes the "other" so that it can be killed without remorse. Grendel is a monster, and only the witch, Selma, sees his humanity and can communicate with him.

The Danes kill Grendel's father because they crossed paths, for no other reason. The father hides his son, Grendel, who is discovered and then spared by the warrior who later becomes king. When Grendel begins to take his revenge, the king is never harmed even though as an aging drunk he is an easy target.

Beowulf, in a manner foreign to the author of the original tale -- and maybe owing much to novelist John Gardner -- wants to know WHY Grendel is attacking the Danes and slowly pieces together the story. But even that is not enough to stem the flow of blood and prevent the tragedy from being passed down.

As I watched the film, I could see the conflict of values memes playing themselves out on the screen. The original story is of a much different meme than the filmmakers, and the hero of the original epic is a different man than the hero of this film. It's fascinating to see how this works in the story, and sometimes doesn't.

All that said, I recommend this film.

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