I'm a sucker for obscure 8th Century (or so) Old English poetry, so when I saw that Beowulf and Grendel had been made, my inner lit geek trembled with equal parts trepidation and excitement. Danes and Geats fighting an evil troll, descended from Cain, the first murderer? Oh, yeah. And there's something to be said for manly Geat warriors strutting around in dead animal capes and carrying enormous swords. But what if they messed the story of Beowulf up? What if it was as bad as the godawful 1999 sci-fi version starring Christopher Lambert? Fortunately, in the hands of Sturla Gunnarsson, Beowulf and Grendel is a masterful film that fleshes out the decidedly one-sided epic poem, bringing Grendel to life with a humanity and warmth that adds layers of meaning to the old tale.
In John C. Gardner's novel Grendel, the author told the story of Beowulf from Grendel's point of view, going heavy on the darkish philosophy and making Grendel a nihilist who had deep conversations with dragons and came to view himself as the creator of the Danes. Scribe Andrew Rai Berzins, in penning the script for Beowulf and Grendel, takes a somewhat different tack, imbuing his Grendel with a deeper level of humanity and a reason for attacking the Danes. Beowulf (Gerard Butler, so perfectly cast he could have stepped right out of the ancient manuscript) is still heroic, but he is a hero with a conscience. Beowulf hears of the plight of the Danes, who have been plauged with attacks by a murderous troll. Distantly related to Danish King Hrothgar (Stellan Skarsgård), and being the heroic and manly warrior that he is, Beowulf sets sail with 14 of his strongest men in his mighty longboat , intent upon quickly and heroically relieving the troll of his head.