06 January 2014

"Outlander" Movie: A very odd homage to Beowulf

Last night, thanks to Netflix, I watched a 2008 film that I had never heard of, Outlander. Since I had no expectations of it or, if I did have any, they they were low, I was in the ideal frame of mind to be pleased when some aspect of the film was unexpectedly thoughtful, correct, or appropriate. Those moments came fairly often. The opinion I now hold on it is that this is the oddest homage to Beowulf that I have ever seen or heard of, and it was clearly written by people who knew and respected the original story.

The greatest oddness is the genre. This is a science-fiction action film with parallels with Alien, Predator, The Thing, and even Cowboys and Aliens. In fact, the film could have been appropriately named Vikings and Aliens. 

The story begins when a spacecraft crashes onto Earth with two survivors. One looks human and the other is, as far as humans are concerned, a monster with some dragon-like, some human-like qualities. The former alien becomes a Beowulf figure after he is captured by Scandinavians of some sort, is taken to Herot and meets king Hrothgar. He makes it his job to kill Grendel mère et fils.

Some of the actors are acclaimed at their craft. John Hurt plays Hrothgar; Ron Perlman is a rival king; the Beowulf surrogate is James Caviezel, who was Jesus in Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ.

The setting looks fairly realistic: some research obviously went into the helmets, buildings, ships, and language. (The alien's native language is Old Norse!) I half-expected some of the swords to have the name Ulfberht stamped onto the blades, but that would have been an anachronism, so perhaps they considered and rejected the idea. (I learned about the Ulfberht swords earlier this week from a Nova and National Geographic documentary. For those who are interested, here it is).

The reviews of the film are mixed, according to Rottentomatoes. This is often a sign that the film is directed at a specific audience which may not be all that big. You belong to that audience if
  1. You are familiar enough with the Beowulf story to appreciate the appearance of Unferth in Hrothgar's court and to wonder if Grendel will, sooner or later, lose an arm;
  2. You want to see a more believable Scandinavian kingly hall than was shown in the terrible Beowulf film (2007);
  3. You enjoyed watching Predator (1987) or Predators (2010);
  4. You are willing to enjoy a free adaptation of the source story.
It turns out that I belong to the film's target audience.

No comments:

Post a Comment