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Beowulf & Grendel(2005)
"Beowulf & Grendel" is the harrowing fantasy adventure tale of a Norse warrior hero pitted against the monstrous murderous troll, Grendel. The story of soldier prince Beowulf stars Gerard Butler, Stellan Skarsgård, Sarah Polley and Tony Curran. The film is directed by Sturla Gunnarsson.
For more about Beowulf & Grendel and the Beowulf & Grendel Blu-ray release, see Beowulf & Grendel Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on November 15, 2007 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Director: Sturla Gunnarsson
Writer: Andrew Rai Berzins
Starring: Gerard Butler, Stellan Skarsgård, Sarah Polley, Ingvar E. Sigurdsson, Rory McCann
» See full cast & crew
Beowulf & Grendel Blu-ray Review
An unappreciated masterpiece arrives on Blu-ray.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, November 15, 2007
Great Beowulf, God's awful arm.
I cannot remember the last time I was this surprised by a film. When I learned I would be reviewing this, I was excited as it was something I had never seen before, and I went into it with no expectations whatsoever. This is a film that has flown completely under the radar and I knew next to nothing about it, except that it was headed to Blu-ray at some point this month. I started playing the disc and an hour and forty-four minutes later, I sat on my couch in wonderment of what I had just witnessed. I knew I had just witnessed a very, very good film once the credits began to roll, but the more I let the film sink in, the more I thought about it, and the more it delved into my consciousness, my fondness for the film grew and grew. As I write this review, the film still fresh in my mind, I am still awestruck at just how good it was.
Based on the epic poem Beowulf, Beowulf and Grendel is a re-telling of part of the tale. As the film opens, the child Grendel (Hringur Ingvarsson in a brief but touching role) and his father, both trolls, are hunted down by the king of the Danes, Hrothgar (Stellan Skarsgård), and he murders Grendel's father in cold blood. He leaves Grendel be, planting a seed of hatred deep inside the young troll who will grow into a powerful beast (played by Ingvar E. Sigurdsson) and will exact revenge by entering the king's house and slaughtering all in it. Hrothgar is not a victim, and as word spreads of the king's plight, the great hero of Geatland Beowulf (Gerard Butler) arrives to slay the troll and put an end to its attacks on the king's home.
Simply put, this is an amazing movie. Once the characters are fleshed out, the fine line between good and evil is not only blurred but it is wiped away. Who is the hero in this film? Who is the villain? As the movie progressed, I changed my mind more than once. Beowulf is the obvious choice for hero and Grendel the obvious choice for villain, but only when we truly understand these characters rather than simply judging them based on their actions do we come to realize that our preconceived notions about them were wrong. Grendel may be a horrific looking troll who slaughters dozens in grotesque ways and even plays an early form of bowling with the heads of his victims, but after the death of his father, he had no male role model to look up to. Likely the only memory of his childhood, the death of his father represents the single driving force in his life. He has no one to teach him right or wrong. We learn of his mother later in the film, a character equally deprived of humanity and exiled based solely on external criteria. We come to realize that Grendel's heart is pure and his motives true. He certainly has a moral compass, as odd as that may seem; he harms only those whom he perceives have harmed him. He struggles with following that compass throughout the film, seemingly knowing that there is a better life out there, but he has no idea what to do to escape the harsh reality and sadness that is his life. Hrothgar, on the other hand, murdered Grendel's father almost as sport; Hrothgar claims he stole a fish from him. So, I ask again, who is the real villain here?
Almost everything about this film is phenomenal. The score is mesmerizing. The direction is solid, and the cinematography is simply beautiful. The acting is superb, especially that of Ingvar E. Sigurdsson. His portrayal of Grendel is one of the great performances I have ever witnessed. He conveys the dichotomy that tears Grendel apart inside perfectly. Grendel is both a vicious killer obsessed with avenging his father's murder and a sad and lonely outcast who hungers for acceptance and understanding. Though he rarely speaks in an intelligible dialect, Sigurdsson manages to convey the raw emotions constantly at odds inside the troll perfectly. I couldn't help but like and feel for the character by the end of the movie despite him being a murderer. The last character I remember feeling this strongly about in a movie was Billy Bob Thornton's portrayal of Karl Childers in Sling Blade. Both Childers and Grendel have quite a bit in common and the connection comes as no surprise. Butler and Skarsgård are both wonderful in their roles as well. The only weak point in the movie for me was the acting of Sarah Polley who plays Selma, a local fortune teller with a dark secret. She brought no attempt at an accent (even though she is supposedly an outsider) to cover her obvious North American accent. It's a minor quibble, but it bothered me just enough to mention. Otherwise this is a brilliant work of art. It is also worth mentioning that director Sturla Gunnarsson and screenwriter Andrew Rai Berzins took a few liberties with the original story, adding much more depth to the Grendel character. In the poem, Grendel is evil incarnate, slaughtering for no reason and immune to forged weapons. Here, he is given a personality and a back story that flesh out the character, and the result is a sympathetic character that connects with the audience by the end of the movie. The film grossed under $70,000 domestically at the box office as a limited release. I sincerely hope this film finds an audience on Blu-ray. I found it to be a masterpiece of modern cinema as a tale of love, revenge, redemption, and understanding.
Beowulf & Grendel Blu-ray, Video Quality
This was a highly puzzling and annoying transfer, unfortunately. Presented in 1080p and in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1, Beowulf and Grendel is a mess visually. It looks great at times--colors, especially reds, are very vibrant. Sadly, the disc is plagued with nagging problems. The image is very soft from the get-go, especially on longer distance shots. Rolling hills look more like green globs than anything else. At one point, there is an odd jump in the tint of the entire image of the film. Perhaps a fade was supposed to be there, but something was definitely wrong. Foggy scenes, especially one in particular, look downright dreadful. There is an exorbitant amount of noise present in one such scene, and it's perhaps the worst moment I have seen on a Blu-ray disc. Blacks are a little bright at times and cause the picture to look washed out. Haloing is an issue here and there. The image is rather flat throughout. Even when it looks good (and that is quite often) it doesn't jump off the screen. Overall this is a decent transfer with more than a fair share of problems. The bottom line is that for the majority of the runtime this is a nice looking transfer, but when problems arise it can look pretty bad.
Beowulf & Grendel Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Fortunately, Beowulf and Grendel fares much, much better in the audio department. Starz has included both Dolby Digital 5.1 and 5.1 PCM uncompressed audio tracks. This film has a powerful yet beautiful score. It is subdued and almost angelic sounding and it is a perfect match for this film. The film was nominated for a Genie award for the score, and it is worthy of such recognition. This is a mostly front heavy track. Dialogue can be slightly muddled at times, and the thick accents of most of the actors doesn't help clear things up. The track is appropriately loud when it needs to be without distortion. Bass will vibrate in your seat. There was nothing spectacular about this track, but there was nothing noticeably wrong with it either. It's a solid, loud, and often spellbinding audio track that makes the film that much better.
Beowulf & Grendel Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Unfortunately, this disc is pretty short on supplements. The main attraction is a commentary with director Sturla Gunnarsson, screenwriter Andrew Rai Berzins, first assistant director Wendy Ord, and costume designer Debra Hanson. This is one of the more interesting tracks I have listened to recently (it always helps when you love the film) and it is obvious that the crew members enjoyed the experience. They provide an in-depth background on the difficulties in filming in Iceland due to cold and uncooperative weather. They even discuss a blessing placed on the film beforehand and how it seemingly turned into a curse. Dressing and grooming the actors appropriately, complete with unique hair extensions and scars, is discussed. Interestingly, there were no CGI effects in this film. Colorful language is heavy in this film that was not present in the original story. The filmmakers have received a lot of criticism for this, but they claim that such words are based on old Norse dialect and they are "as old as we can make it." The story of Beowulf as we know it today was likely written down by a monk (though the original author of the poem is unknown), and the filmmakers contend that such an individual would have left such colorful dialogue out of the final story.
The only other special features are a 480p storyboard comparison that runs just under three minutes, a 1080p trailer for Beowulf and Grendel and 480p trailers for Macbeth and The Other Conquest.
Beowulf & Grendel Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Wow. I'm in awe of not only how great this movie was, but also about how I feel after watching it. I'll be re-watching this again very soon. I knew I liked it after finishing it, but the longer it sunk in, the more I can't help but to be drawn closer to it. It's a powerful, touching tale that delves deep into the human psyche and engenders in its viewers the ultimate message to never accept anything based on face value alone. Yes, Grendel is a monster that cannot be allowed to continue to murder but we, along with Beowulf, soon realize he is a misguided man with a good heart that operates on instinct alone. Never accepted for what he is, he has nowhere to turn but inside his own heart to determine what course his life will follow.
This is a film that moves along at just the right pace to draw us in deeper into the story. It's a deep film that will undoubtedly leave you thinking about it long after the credits roll. Unfortunately, the video quality is subpar as are the list of supplements. Please don't let the negatives of the image quality sway you from buying this disc. The problems are there, but they do not plague the entire runtime of the film. Even when they are present, the film is still watchable, and the disc sounds just fine. Based on the strength of the movie alone, I'm recommending this Blu-ray. Highly.
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