Last Sunday I had the chance to watch the full-CGI movie “The Legend of Beowulf” on TV (meaning: without paying for it). I’m glad I’ve never actually paid money to see it, to be honest. And no, that’s not because of the CGI-characters, they were done well.
I’m quite well-acquainted with the story of Beowulf. I’ve read the original tale and I’ve seen a host of movies. Most movies don’t take the original tale that serious, but that’s okay. Until Sunday I thought the “Beowulf”-movie with Christopher Lambert was the worst (despite the rather inspired Steampunk setting and the great design for Grendel’s mother). Now I know better.
But where do I start? With the CGI part? No, because there was nothing wrong with it – even though I wondered what they needed famous actors for, others would have done as well. Apart from that, everything was quite well there. Not exactly perfectly realistic models, but we’re speaking about monsters and heroes here, so that’s not a necessity. One thing didn’t work out, though, and that is a major drawback: Grendel.
Stephen King rightfully describes Grendel in “Danse Macabre” (a great book about horror movies and horror novels from the 1950s to the 1980s with a few chapters about the basics of the genre) as a ‘natural born killer’. It’s a predator, a creature that kills humans just as easily as a fox kills a rabbit. The Grendel in this movie looks crippled and isn’t exactly bloodthirsty. It kills the king’s men – but just because they make that much noise. Today it probably would just call the police instead. This Grendel is everything but a natural born killer. It’s something you pity.
The story has been changed, too, making Grendel Hrothgar’s son. But that’s not really the problem. The Lambert version of the story features the same twist, but the monster still is a monster. It also makes the dragon which will kill Beowulf in the end Beowulf’s own son with Grendel’s mother (a tad unrealistic, but in this movie the mother of the monster looks hot). Still, the story takes a few turns that don’t really feature with the hero the original tale presents us.
Yes, Beowulf is, for his time, the ‘perfect’ hero without flaws. But that’s the point in a character like him. He never follows Hrothgar on the throne – he actually has a kingdom of his own to rule. And he kills Grendel’s mother just like her child, after she has avenged her son and killed most of Beowulf’s companions.
But for me, it was the design of Grendel as a crippled something that really ruined the movie. I don’t want to pity the monster which the hero slays.