Review: Beowulf (1999)

Christopher Lambert stars in this fantasy actioner which is based on the ancient Beowulf poem. A monster is killing off the citizens of an isolated fortress, and a hero is needed. It’s thumping, violent, different and cheesy enough to be B-movie art.

Great stories can not be beowulf1999dvdtold too often, but if you have seen or heard the Beowulf story a few times, you start to ask yourself if something can be done to spice it up. This 1999 adaption starring European action actor Christopher Lambert (Highlander, Greystoke) is the answer to your preyers. The basic story is the same – a monster is terrorizing the inhabitants of a small kingdom (in this case a fortress) and only a hero from the outside can kill it – but in this version details are pushed beyond what have been shown in other movies. For example, without spoiling too much of the movie, the story takes place in something that looks medieval but isn’t. And Lambert’s Beowulf is much more reluctant than other Beowulfs. He is also less hero-like. There is also a twist to the relationship between Hrothgar and Grendel. And a detail such as the score – powerful electronica from Juno Reactor – adds oomph to the movie in a way that an orchestral score could not have done, taking the movie’s size and scope into consideration. Vikings are nowhere to be seen, but since most adaptions are Viking related, it’s interesting to put this film into the expanding universe of Beowulf.

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Lambert almost only stars in medium budget independent movies, and this is no exception, which shows clearly in the CGI, which was not great even for 1999 standards. Thankfully, there is not a lot of it and most of what you see (environments, props, costumes) is physical, which in this case creates a believable atmosphere. On the technical side, it can also be noted that Lambert uses stunt doubles in quite a few scenes, and this dilutes the action a bit but his trademark squinting acting makes up for that. Chris Lambert is not a cool actor in everyone’s eyes, but he fits this role well. He’s not a muscle actor, but he projects authority in almost anything he does, and adds weight to this particular movie.

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Thumping, violent, different and cheesy enough throughout to be B-movie art, Beowulf is perhaps not the best adaption of the ancient Norse poem (it certainly has many flaws) but it is perhaps the most creative. That, coupled with decent amounts of violence, sex / nudity and Rhona Mitra (once the leading contender for the role of Tomb Raider) makes it a must-see B.

Rated 8 of 10.

Directed by Graham Baker.

USA / UK, 1999.

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