Welcome to our 2nd Year of Bad Movies with Brad! This month we Killer Moose are going to be talking about something that’s a challenge for even good filmmakers: adaptations. But just as good filmmakers are picking up their favorite books and saying “This would be a great movie” terrible filmmakers are always looking at some place they can grab a story, preferably for free. The public domain is constantly being raided by hacks looking for a recognizable name to throw on top of their credits. That’s the reason why, much to Hanna’s dismay, classic literature is frequently turned into terrible, terrible movies. She voiced this dismay especially loudly when I took out my copy of 1999’s Beowulf starring frequent bad movie offender, Christopher Lambert.
“But- but it’s Beowulf!”
“I know, Hanna.”
“It’s..the first…story…we have…”
“You’ll be fine.”
Yes, this Beowulf is based on the eleven hundred year old epic poem that serves as one of the foundational stories of English literature, no that does not mean it ever had any chance of being good. “Beowulf” is a pretty simple story when it comes right down to it, it should be an easy adaptation for a movie studio to accomplish: Badass warrior comes to King’s house, he finds a monster, kills said monster. The monster’s mother gets mad, Beowulf kills it, becomes King, then gets killed by a dragon. And yet,when you buy a copy of Christopher Lambert’s portrayal of Beowulf 1 once you ignore the ridiculously bad cover art and flip the box over you’ll be treated to this:
Christopher Lambert (MORTAL KOMBAT, HIGHLANDER) stars in this futuristic update of the classic poem written in 900 AD and set in a world of supernatural evil and inexplicable danger! Torn from a legend whose roots are buried in the mists of time, Beowulf is half man — half god. Living in a techno-futile world of the future, a medieval land where technology’s secrets are locked away in a mute past, Beowulf fights his way through a besieging army and into a mysterious, ominous castle on the edge of nowhere to face an evil within … a beastly spawn of man and demon named Grendel. Now he must fight to the death in order to quell the raging violence hidden deep in his own bedeviled soul!
It’s a rare thing when the box description for a movie is just as bad as what’s inside. Though out of the many problems with that we’ll be covering a couple in particular.
When the producer of the film adaptation of Mortal Kombat decides that he wants to take on a piece of classic literature you should expect a certain aesthetic and that is exemplified in the first moments of the movie where we’re treated to high octane electronica blaring out of the speakers while lightning strikes the film’s logo. Apparently the producer really only knew one way to open a movie and it was this:
Once the credits are over you’re taken into the world they elected to set up for their adaptation, a post-apocalyptic medieval-ish future thing. Yes, the subpar copywriter who wrote the box definitely mean to type “techno-feudal” There are castles, crossbows and swords, but also gas lamps and futuristic binoculars. However, considering that the technology of this world features a portcullis that goes sideways and weapons that feature a stationary chainsaw blade for a sword and a pike with a motorized pizza cutter on one end, maybe techno-futile is more accurate.
The production design is so glaringly bad it’s legitimately distracting, this combined with the cheapness of the filmmaking and their choice to use the same stock footage over and over again creates an experience that has me nearly on the floor hate laughing at this thing. King Hrothgar’s mead hall is transformed into “The Outpost” a hulking machine castle with one huge tower covered with clawlike appendages, that shoot fire every few minutes when they come together, for no reason.
The problem only gets worse when our monster is finally revealed. Grendel has, legitimately been a great design challenge for everyone who has attempted the monster over the years. He’s not a dragon right? What could he look like? Is he furry? Humanoid? I don’t know for certain myself, I’m not an anglo-saxon literature scholar or anything. But I am one hundred percent certain that Grendel wasn’t meant to look like a rubber suit that walked off an unfilmed Power Rangers episode. Not a good one either, one of the ones that mainly takes place at the juice bar and doesn’t feature any morphing.
Surely they could do better on Grendel’s mother right? Well, not so much as she’s the product of rubbery looking prosthetics, horrendous CGI, and well…more on that later. I’m pretty sure this is a boss from Doom right?
Beowulf’s cast is mishandled in a similar way to the production, and by that I mean they’re equally awful. Christopher Lambert returns to us with a performance that makes Connor MacLeod look almost Shakespearean by comparison. He speaks his lines like he’s dubbing a terrible anime and has no idea he’s being filmed. Not to mention that he speaks him in that “accent that’s not from anywhere” that he apparently developed for Highlander but follows him to every movie. Though some of this is certainly not his fault. The fact that someone thought he should have his hair dyed white because it looked cool when he was Raiden in Mortal Kombat doesn’t rest on him. Nor does the fact that Beowulf apparently fights all his enemies using mostly flips. Also one piece of information about Lambert becomes painfully evident in the way this film is shot. Lambere has severe myopia and is nearly blind without his glasses. He also can’t wear contacts so every movie he does he basically does blind. This starts to become really obvious when the director films him head on and his eyes can’t decide which way the camera is.
Apparently this makes doing fight scenes with Lambert rather intense. I had a friend who worked on a movie with Vernon Wells, who had a fight scene with Lambert in his movie Fortress. Wells apparently said, “After I fought him, I went to the director and said ‘Chris gets really into those fight scenes doesn’t he?’ And he said ‘That’s cause he can’t see a damn thing.’”
His leading lady does not get a lot of favors either. Rhona Mitra has been spectacular in plenty of things, including being the person you’re third saddest to see in Underworld: Rise of the Lycans. As Hrothgar’s not-from-the-poem daughter Kyra, however she’s given very little to do except demand to be in every fight and get turned down by her dad. Then when she shows up for the final fight she’s given literally the tiniest knife in the castle. And of course in typical bad movie fashion every outfit she wears from her day wear to a party dress are all low cut to the point that a porn director would say, “Oh come on she wouldn’t be wearing that here. It’s cold outside.”
The extras get the same treatment as there were obviously budget constraints during the filming, causing them to hastily kill off most everyone inside the outpost. Hrothgar’s men, barricade all the women and children inside “the sanctuary”, and they’ve been in there thirty seconds when Beowulf walks up and asks if the door is only way in. Cue the screams and the piles of dead bodies.
It’s difficult to find a Bad Movie Hero for this one, mainly because everyone who wanted to try was given terrible costumes, bad direction, horrible lines, or sent off to another job due to budget. But there is one performer who can legitimately say that not only was Beowulf a good decision for her career, she’s the only one putting her all into the movie. And it may have had some unintended consequences. Grendel’s mother for instance, is a pretty unfleshed out role in the poem. Beowulf goes down into her lair after she attacks the mead hall and kills her, and that’s about it. In the film however she’s played by Layla Roberts and her panini pressed hair.
That’s going to be about as wide a shot as I can show you because her costume is distinctly NSFW, but needless to say, she’s certainly being done even fewer favors in that department than Rhona Mitra. She basically only has two jobs in the entirety of the script, sexing men to death, and grinding on Hrothgar while a fan from an Aerosmith video blows her hair around. Oddly enough this was similar enough to her role in Armageddon where she did the same to Steve Buscemi.
To be clear, Roberts’ performance isn’t good by any means, she has pretty much the acting talent of a Playboy playmate whose previous role had been in Erotic Confessions: Volume 9. However, when it comes down to her having her final confrontation with Hrothgar and Beowulf, she has to deliver a long winded, contrived speech and I’ll be darned if she doesn’t give it her best.
Now I wouldn’t call that acting good outside a community theatre performance, but she certainly winds up doing better than any of the so called “professionals” alongside her. Keeping that in mind, have a Bad Movie Hero award Layla, for being the only person to treat this thing like a job! That’s all for this month, remember that Beowulf is the most fun you can have for 98 cents from Amazon, and that next month we’ll be tackling a disaster of filmmaking from the 70s, that kept Patton Oswalt up at night. See you then!