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Beowulf

**
1999

‘…a shambles for the ages…’

In a bid from true critical immortality, I finally earned my Beowulf boy-scout badge for completing not only reading the original poem, but watching not one, not two, but three movies derived from the classic tale. Yes, suck it up, haters, but I see no evidence that Roger Ebert or Pauline Kael ever viewed THREE adventures taken from the Old English manuscript, and I claim my prize with all the pompous passion with which the titular warrior slayed the monstrous Grendel and his mother.

Yes, it’s bad movie time, and this version of Beowulf, set in some ’post-apocalyptic, techno-feudal future’, makes the other two look tame, and that’s no easy thing to do to Robert Zemeckis’ 2007 ‘I’ve come to kill your monst-ah’ farrago, or the Gerry Butler Monster Hunter epic from 2005 that preceded it. Nope, this Beowulf is somehow the silliest of them all; duff movie addicts will immediately recognise that by casting Christopher Lambert and Rhona Mitra in central roles, this Beowulf has the true pedigree of a shambles for the ages. This is Beowulf adapted for the screen by the producers of the famously awful Mortal Kombat films, and if you want to see how a great work of literature looks when filtered through the mind of a video-gamer, look no further.

The plot need not detain us for long; Beowulf (Lambert) is a cross between Highlander and Mad Max and scoots around a desolate wasteland on his horse before coming across an embattled castle. The denizens are being terrorised by a creature called a Grendel, and Beowulf decides to free them from the monster. Kyra (Mitra) fancies Beowulf, but their canoodling is disrupted when Grendel’s mom turns up not happy about the fate of her son…

Filmed in Romania for a fraction of the advertised budget, garlanded by blasts of techno such as Junkie XL or The Prodigy, and directed at a pace by the man behind the lively Omen III, Graham Baker, this Beowulf also has the worst monster of the trilogy of the terrible, with Grendel half-rendered as an unfinished effect that appears to be mainly motion blur. ‘I must fight the evil to keep from becoming evil.’ explains Beowulf, but even Lambert’s low-energy, phonetic acting style can’t light the darkness here. This Beowulf is awful, yes, but it’s also inherently amusing in its presumption that what Old English poems need to appeal to teenagers is techno, gore and Playstation 2 visuals. Surfacing for free on Amazon Prime as a trap for the unwary, this Beowulf is for hardened bad-movie veterans only, but offers truly perverse rewards for those willing to consider the mind-bending action contained here. Dare YOU venture into the mad world of Beowulf?

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    • It’s one I recommend unreservedly to those who enjoy dining from the cinematic top table of bad movies…

  1. Lambert somehow makes crap good. I have been tempted to see this film based on his presence alone, Your review somehow makes it much more tempting for me-especially since it’s on Prime and I will not need to seek it out physically.

    • That’s the spirit. I wasn’t bored for a second watching this movie, Lambert is a class act, the music is a complete mismatch, and the visuals provoke mirth. I didn’t know it existed, but was glad I saw it. Enjoy!

  2. Lambert was such an interesting package, both a sort of action star and Brando-like, brooding presence. I always felt like they didn’t know what to do with him. His language barriers might have had something to do with that. In your first paragraph you doubled “though” one time. It’s OK, it doesn’t really detract, but I feel it important to maintain our professional editing skills. 🙂

    • I suggested Subway as Lambert’s other best work, but I’m kind of fond of him for being good in a couple of big films, and being in a number of amusingly bad ones too. We’ll always have Highlander.

      • I’ve always enjoyed him! Not sure he’s ever been used properly. I loved seeing him in the small role he had in that George Clooney thing about old Hollywood, Hail Caesar or something?

  3. Amazing that such a little-read Olde English work – and full marks for managing it yourself – should be such a magnet for movie-makers as if they were aiming for boy scout badges or angling for university professorships for tackling the subject.

    • It’s a moment of collective madness from the film industry to make three features in eight years about a text that hardly anyone has read or knows about outside of academic circles…

      • Doesn’t EVERYONE read Beowulf? At least the Grendel part? Every American High School starts an English lit course with it and goes straight to Chaucer directly afterwards.

        • Yup, agreed, but you’re not reading it in Olde English, are you? Same with Chaucer, you’re reading translations…

        • On reflection, they should study the Christopher Lambert Techno-English version in every school.

          • These works are NOT translated into modern english at all. But I frankly don’t know if what they have offered us is a true representation of the original.

            • My guess is that they’re halfway between the original and a free translation. It was certainly a tough read as part of a lit degree at uni in the version I wrestled with….

              • Hwæt. We Gardena in geardagum,
                þeodcyninga, þrym gefrunon,
                hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon.
                Oft Scyld Scefing sceaþena þreatum,
                monegum mægþum, meodosetla ofteah,
                egsode eorlas. Syððan ærest wearð
                feasceaft funden, he þæs frofre gebad, 🙂

                Yeah the original could not possibly be thought of as readable to modern english speakers.

  4. I have a vague memory of Ray Winstone and Angelina Jolie being in a Beowulf movie, but that can’t be right. I will give this one a nope , I think vague memory will suffice.

  5. Did you read it in translated or in the original?

    I’ve only seen that ugly 3d animated version which was bad. So if you consider this worse, I’ll not be watching it.

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