From the Archive – Beowulf (1999)

“Unleash your dark side.”

Directed by Graham Baker.
Starring – if you can really call it that – Christopher Lambert and Rhona Mitra

The epic Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf tells the story of the eponymous hero; a mighty Scandinavian warrior-king of the sixth century.

The 1999 film Beowulf tells the story of the eponymous hero; a black-clad half-man, half-demon kinda guy in a weird, techno-primitive world.

In the epic, Beowulf wrestles and kills the monster Grendel, who has been menacing Heorot, the hall of the Danish King Hrothgar. He is then forced to fight and kill Grendel’s mother, an acid-fleshed water-witch. He later becomes king of his homeland, and in his old age has to fight and kill a dragon, who deals him a poisoned wound which finally sends him to his grave.

In the film, Beowulf engages in fast-cut, acrobatic combat with the monster Grendel, who has seen the Predator one too many times and is menacing the industrial-gothic fortress of Heorot, the hall of King Hrothgar. He is then forced to fight and kill Grendel’s mother, a trampy blonde in a string dress who morphs into a big, muscle-skinned CGI monster. No dragons are involved, but Beowulf does get a pumping techno soundtrack.

The poem has no real love interest, and the only major female character is the Queen of the Danes, who toasts Beowulf’s initial victory over Grendel. The vast majority of Hrothgar’s people survive the poem.

The film has the woman who modelled for Lara Croft, dressed in revealing brown leathers, as a feisty princess. Everybody except she and Beowulf get brutally killed, even the comedy sidekick.

That’s about it really.

What’s wrong with it?

The plot is minimal. The acting is poor, and not at all helped by the laughable dialogue. The techno-primitive setting looks – frankly – like it was cobbled together out of whatever came to hand. The pop-video editing is almost vertiginous at times. The fight scenes are pretty so-so. The gratuitous sex scenes are, well, entirely gratuitous. The female character is nothing but eye candy. Christopher Lambert.

What’s right with it?

The dialogue and plot are laughable enough to be fun, and you can’t entirely go wrong with a pumping techno soundtrack. Christopher Lambert.

How bad is it really?

Beowulf is eye-poppingly bad, but with the almost non-stop motion and that techno score, you almost don’t notice. It’s the cinematic equivalent of rat vindaloo; you wouldn’t eat it if you knew, but it’s hard to really taste how foul it is under the sauce.

Best bit (if such there is)?

Having previously executed a series of dazzling backflips, only to end up getting clocked in the face by Grendel at the end of it, Beowulf executes a series of dazzling backflips, only to get clocked in the face by Grendel’s mummy at the end of it.

What’s up with…?

  • When society breaks down and we revert to an industrial-primitive state, why is it that the first thing we seem to run out of is women’s clothing? However cold it might be, no female character in such films ever seems able to scrape together much more than a tight leather vest and pants; if they’re lucky.
  • And if society has broken down and all we have left is the relics of the past, how come the technically demanding skill of blacksmithing seems to be rediscovered so quickly? There can’t be more than a few hundred real blacksmiths left in the modern world; and presumably the apocalypse will scratch a few of them.

Ratings:

Production values – Pop-video level; more precisely, 80s rock video. The lighting is all over the place and the sets, props and much of the costume seems to be cobbled together from whatever the studios next door weren’t using. 13

Dialogue and performances – Laughably bad. Christopher Lambert just acts the way he always does. Rhona Mitra is not a bad performer as eye candy goes, but the supporting cast is frankly just bad. I’d like to think – because I’m charitable that way – that they weren’t really trying. 16

Plot – Well, in many ways there really isn’t one, just a series of fight scenes and the occasional gratuitous shag. 18

Randomness – An eclectic series of weapons. A monster that bears a striking resemblance to the Predator. String-dress bint. Big, muscle-flesh monster. A guillotine in the form of a giant straight razor. Beowulf’s father was a demon of some sort. Grendel’s mum trying to get it on with Beowulf (among others). Hrothgar is Grendel’s daddy (although this seems to be a popular choice). The crazy never stops. 16

Waste of Potential – Beowulf could make a stunning film, but to be honest, this was never really going to be it. 9.

Overall – 72%

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