Beowulf (1999)
Beowulf (1999)

Genre: Action and Fantasy Running Time: 1 hr. 35 min.

Release Date: March 31st, 1999 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Graham Baker Actors: Christopher Lambert, Rhona Mitra, Oliver Cotton, Gotz Otto, Vincent Hammond, Charlie Robinson, Layla Roberts, Patricia Velasquez, Diana Dumbrava

 


 

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n a medieval village, which is actually set in a bizarrely futuristic time period (like “Mad Max” meets Steampunk), a young woman (Patricia Velasquez) fleeing the infested Outpost area is sentenced to die on a razorblade-shaped guillotine in the public square. But before her execution can be completed, a lone warrior rides into the circle and demands her freedom. When the merciless captain of the guard refuses, the swordsman, named Beowulf (Christopher Lambert), cuts down dozens of soldiers to gallantly rescue the prisoner.

From there, Beowulf makes his way to the Outpost, where King Hrothgar (Oliver Cotton) and his main commander, Roland (Otto Gotz), are shocked to discover that the dark knight wishes to help the remaining survivors rid themselves of a dark scourge – the monstrous killer called Grendel (Vincent Hammond). The beast regularly visits the castle to feast on human flesh, causing their numbers to dwindle to approximately 40 haggard men. That night, the weapons master is slain, followed by elderly assistant Karl (Roger Sloman) the next morning, prompting Hrothgar’s headstrong daughter Kyra (Rhona Mitra, sporting pervasive cleavage) to join the fight against the murderer. The women and children are rushed to the sanctuary for protection while the ragtag troops await the inevitable return of Grendel.

The music is ludicrously ill-fitting, blasting techno-rock beats during action scenes and to introduce new characters and locales, and a comical love theme at laughably awkward moments. This soundtrack might even be too progressive for a rip-off of “The Matrix.” The pitifully insincere dialogue matches the misplaced score, alternating between generic quips and odd remarks, while a random mélange of costumes, poor computer graphics that mimic “Predator’s” camouflage effects (the creature is also reminiscent of the baddie from “Split Second”), and blandly conceived dream sequences further work against an aligned vision. “Fight well … or die badly,” menacingly states Roland, issuing a line that sounds like it was stolen from several other films. Earlier, Beowulf cynically utters the phrase “just kidding,” which seems hysterically anachronistic even in this eclectic world. And replacement artificer Will (Brent Jefferson Lowe) comments on all the cool ways to die, regularly speaking as if mortality is a joke.

The opening title graphics very much resemble something out of “Mortal Kombat.” It’s just one of countless elements that distances this adaptation so extremely from the epic Old English poem (which serves as a basis) that it’s virtually unrecognizable. Grendel’s mother is a blonde Playmate (Layla Roberts), before morphing into the most unwieldy alien concept; the setting is a cross between “Waterworld,” “Ladyhawke,” and “Masters of the Universe”; the armory is advanced but not revolutionary; the plot attempts to be a horror film and an actioner but does neither well; fight scenes are choreographed and edited spiritlessly; and Beowulf is driven by a peculiar, supernatural possession.

Still, a handful of plot points recognizably follow the source material, almost making a game of picking out the morsels of faithfulness. And though the project is an ambitious attempt to reinvent a serious, significant work – far too late to cash in on the “Conan the Barbarian” craze – the unintentional hilarity provides modest amusement. And Beowulf’s nonstop somersaults and backflips, which seem to slow him down more than transport him swiftly, are laugh-out-loud silly.

– Mike Massie

  • 2/10