Wednesday, December 5, 2007
Christopher Lambert (Highlander) stars in this, the definitive interpretation of the Beowulf story. Why did Zemekis and company even attempt to top this one? Don't bother seeing his version, the one currently making decent coin at the box office. Even in 3D, it's kind of a joke in comparison. Beowulf 1999 even tops the Gerard Butler (300) edition, Beowulf & Grendel. What a travesty that piece of shit was. Fuck, Grendel wasn't even a monster. He was just some hairy pissed off dude with a thyroid problem. Don't even talk to me about The 13th Warrior, an abomination against celluloid. Not only could they not spell Beowulf's name right (Buliwyf??? What the fuck?), but they forgot to even include Grendel in the story. Puh-lease. Anonymous was surely rolling over in his grave after that came out. Let's be frank here, people. I'll save you a lot of time. This picture blows the original epic poem out of the water as well. Kids, I'm talking to you. When your teacher assigns you to read the poem in class, just skip it. Watch this instead. If you're like me, it might take a couple days of slogging to get through the poem which, to the best of my knowledge, was longer than a page and had a terrible rhyme scheme. Beowulf 1999 is the solution to your problem. It clocks in at a crisp 87 minutes. That's even better than the Cliffs notes. You can thank me after you score an A on the quiz.
Beowulf 1999, unlike those other crap festivals I mentioned, takes place in the future (the 5th-6th centuries A.D. can go fuck themselves too). Not just any future, mind you, but a post apocalyptic one. Post apocalypse > ancient fucking times. Therefore, better. How do we know this takes place in the post apocalyptic future? Besides the techno beat pulsating during the battle scenes, the movie features a few characters with eye glasses (which featured quite prominently in Mel Gibson's post apocalyptic tome, Beyond Thunderdome). A castle, right out of an M.C. Escher nightmare, stands in for that rinky dinky beer hall that Hrothgar called home in those other versions. This castle features moving parts which are often engulfed in fire. The castle even has it's own god damned public address system, a vast improvement over screaming and yelling that was all too common in the days of yore.
Christopher Lambert plays the titular character in, what some might call, a wooden performance. His tone of voice never changes as he talks about the "darkness" that pursues him wherever he goes. I won't go there. It's a brilliant performance. Equipped with crossbows and a multitude of sharpened gadgets, Lambert's Beowulf is the James Bond of post apocalyptic barbarians. Upon being called an "idiot" for coming to the curs-ed keep, Beowulf responds "only an idiot WOULD come to this damned place....unless he was already damned". So fucking deep, I began developing a man crush.
Hrothgar is played most ably by Oliver Cotton (Christopher Columbus: The Discovery) the man who couldn't, for the life of him, get Grendel to fight him because he fucked Grendel's mother....and well, I won't spoil the BIG revelation. You'll just have to watch for yourself. I'm trusting you NOT to read the poem. This is so much better. Hrothgar is even provided a lovely daughter, named Kyra, played by Rhona Mitra (of Party of Five fame). Gotz Otto plays Roland, Hrothgar's #1 swordsman/kung fu master. His unrequited love for Kyra provides some tension, not that it was needed (so much already!) between Roland and Beowulf, whom Kyra clearly pines for. These are the main roles, but what really puts this picture over the top are the supporting ones. Brent Jefferson Lowe (The Jacksons: An American Dream) plays Will, hip hop comic relief, assistant (soon to be promoted?) and nephew to the weapon's master (Charles Robinson from Night fucking Court!). After Robinson is given a tragic death, where he scrambles blindly around on the floor after Grendel knocks off his glasses only to have the beast eviscerate the shit out of him, Will is finally given his well deserved promotion. Will has his doubts about his abilities but is comforted by Beowulf, who tells him "you don't have to be good ALL the time. Once should suffice" or something like that, I'm paraphrasing. The movies sheer brilliance continues to cloud my thoughts.
Do I need to get into the plot? Ok, Grendel is a monster. Every night he makes his way into the castle and kills as many of Hrothgar's men as monsterly possible before sun-up. By the time Beowulf arrives, there are forty men left. Why does Grendel do this? Where did he come from? Why couldn't Hrothgar just keep it in his fucking pants?? To find the answers, netflix this immediately OR pick it up in the "$5 and under" DVD section at your local video store. It saddens me greatly that this picture isn't secured firmly in the "priceless" DVD section, a price I would most assuredly pay. So misunderstood.
I sense another question from my captive audience. You want to know why Hrothgar and his men didn't just leave the castle and run? Because, inexplicably (yes, sometimes even the best movies lack an explanation for everything. It's a little thing called subtlety) an army has surrounded the accursed place. They kill anyone that flees. They're not working with Grendel, so I think their motive is purely one of religion. Occasionaly, the director, Graham Baker (The Omen III) cuts back to this band of barbarous zealots where we get to witness them looking upon Hrothgar's keep through a scope of some sort (post apocalyptic) and commenting on the action with lines such as "my GOD look at the size of that thing!" Graham Baker is a brilliant, brilliant director. I can only assume that he died, however, because this was his final film.
Of course, you can't have a film about Beowulf without having a Grendel (Fuck you 13th Warrior!). And this one has its Grendel and then some. Again, a vast improvement over every other interpretation because this guy is a fucking predator. When I say "predator", I don't simply mean he's an animal that hunts or kills other animals, although he kind of is that. No, he's an alien that hunts human prey (and sometimes aliens) and is equipped with a cloaking device. He didn't use that laser-spear thing in this one, since I guess it wouldn't have been fair. It now becomes pretty clear that the predator in Predator was sent back in time to waste Arnold Schwartzenegger (also, Hercules in New York) who is most obviously an ancestor of Christopher Lambert's Beowulf. It's a little tough to pick up on and since most of you would miss this connection, I'm here to, well, connect it for you. Of course, I was a little shocked to learn that Grendel's mom IS Pamela Anderson (played here by future oscar winner and past Playboy Playmate, Layla Roberts). She has a great scene with Roland, near the climax, with some terrific dialogue that I won't recount for you now. The scene slowly builds as she moves closer to poor Roland and the techno music pulsates gently. I half expected it to end with a pop shot all over her pretty face.
Unfortunately, all great things must come to an end and this is MOST certainly a great thing. Wisely, Baker, in constructing his magnum opus, trimmed off all the horrible fat from the poem. Beowulf is a bit more conflicted here, as he is the son of Baal, "lord of lies". Therefore, duh, he has to always be fighting evil, lest he become that which he fights. All that nonsense about a dragon was trimmed as well, though, let's face it. If they left the dragon in, Beowulf probably would have been fighting a tank with a blow torch attached to it or something. Actually, that would be kind of cool. I'm sure they filmed it, but the studio made them take it out. We need the estate of Graham Baker to prepare his "final" definitive cut, although how does one improve on perfection? The thing that makes this one far superior, the icing on the cake, if you will, is that Beowulf is not a slave when it comes to beautiful women. Oh, Grendel's mom is mighty tempting, especially when trying to convince Beowulf that he'd like the feel of "hot blood pumping down his throat". Wait a minute? Did she just question his sexuality? Anywhoo, then she turns into a giant crab-thing and the lucky viewer is treated to Baker's piece de resistance. Oh, glory, thy name is Beowulf 1999.
Or, maybe it sucked, and in actuality, I love all the other versions? I don't know, can't remember.