Thursday, February 14, 2013

Movie Review: BEOWULF (1998)


1998, Dimension #20856, HF/SS/CC, NSR, VHS
#20776, DD-2.0/16:9/C/CC, $32.99, DVD-1, 92m 32s

By John Charles
Originally published in slightly different form in Video Watchdog #69

Bearing little resemblance to the classic 6th century poem, this sword and sorcery debacle is from the producers of the MORTAL KOMBAT films, a lineage the relentlessly irritating techno soundtrack never allows one to forget. A haunted stranger with a destiny to fulfil, Beowulf (Christopher Lambert) finds the object of his quest in a kingdom that is being systematically ravaged by the strange, elusive Grendel. Said beast previously only claimed its victims at night but has become more brazen and critically injures Beowulf in their first encounter. The warrior possesses amazing recuperative powers, however, and manages to severely wound Grendel, but a more ancient evil still remains to be surmounted.

Set in a seemingly post-apocalyptic future that blends together different periods and influences, BEOWULF offers equally interchangeable characters, no suspense, and a cheesy man-in-suit monster that director Graham Baker (ALIEN NATION, THE FINAL CONFLICT) wisely keeps obscured as often as possible. Garbed in black leather and sporting close-cropped white hair, Lambert gives his usual impassive performance, while heroine Rhona Mitra conveys emotion by staring blankly into space with her mouth hanging open. The rest of the cast is no better (would you believe NIGHT COURT's Charles Robinson as a weapons master? Richard Moll, perhaps, but "Mac, the Bailiff?") and practically everyone has a different accent, making the players seem even more crazy quilt than the props and costumes. The action sequences do a dismal job of aping HK choreography and "The Ultimate Evil" (Playboy Playmate Layla Roberts) looks like something out of a Twisted Sister video before changing into a CGI creature so pitifully unconvincing, it sets the technology back ten years.

Although it hit Asian and European theatres in 1999, Dimension has wisely premiered BEOWULF in North America on video, though they took their time about it (the film was issued an MPAA rating in 1998) and have not even bothered to include a 5.1 mix on the DVD. Regardless, the stereo is still thunderous when it needs to be and who would want this soundtrack to have any more presence? The picture looks as good as the film was designed to look, with its relentlessly low-key lighting and dreary exteriors; the closed captioning is exhaustive. The somewhat more attractive anamorphic DVD presents the film at 1.83:1 and includes an international trailer, a useless featurette (2m 27s), and video trailers for SCREAM 3, FROM DUSK TILL DAWN 3: THE HANGMAN'S DAUGHTER, and HIGHLANDER: THE FINAL DIMENSION. Coupled with the atrocious main attraction, that is not much of an enticement for $32.99.

(This release is no longer available, but the film has since been re-released on DVD at a more appropriate price by Echo Bridge)

1 comment:

  1. Yikes. As bad as the later motion-capture item looked (that Grendel's mother had high-heels built into her legs was enough to make anyone grumpy), I'll believe you about this one...