“The only thing that stops me from becoming evil, is fighting evil.”
You know how in HIGHLANDER Christopher Lambert said he had “a kind of magic” because he was an immortal? Well, being in that movie made him a kind of movie icon and imbued him with his own kind of magic. It’s the kind of magic where he can come into MORTAL KOMBAT wearing a robe, act mystical and say “I don’t THEENK so” and somehow seem more cool than laughable. It’s also the kind of magic where he can reunite with the producer of MORTAL KOMBAT and say “why don’t we do another one like that but instead of basing it on a popular video game we’ll use a thousand year old epic poem?”
So here we have a movie that has a KOMBAT-esque logo, a techno and industrial soundtrack (Front 242, Juno Reactor, KMFDM, Junkie XL, also Anthrax), a big climactic fight with a crude CGI monster, and yes, it is also a recognizable adaptation of the story of Beowulf (Lambert), the monster Grendel (uncredited Vincent Hammond, also a suit performer in FULL ECLIPSE, THE RELIC and SPECIES II) and the king Hrothgar (Oliver Cotton, FIREFOX, WONDER WOMAN 1984).
At first glance it seems medieval, like you expect. People ride horses and use swords, there are never any guns or vehicles. But you notice some modern boots and stuff, the occasional zipper, the TV dinner style aluminum foil dishes, the pulsating claw on top of the castle, and you realize it’s something else. I took it for post-apocalyptic, but I don’t think it’s ever specified. Alternate history, alternate dimension, multi-verse, coma child’s dream, whatever.
So, Hrothgar’s castle “the outpost” is being attacked nightly by “the beast” (slimy rubber suit partially obscured by digital distortion like a Predator camouflage). During daylight, weirdos in skull masks and horned helmets are gonna execute a woman (Patricia Velasquez, THE MUMMY and THE MUMMY RETURNS, MINDHUNTERS, Red Hot Chili Peppers “Breaking the Girl” video) by chopping her in half with a giant knife because she came from the outpost so they think she’s “infested with evil.” Suddenly, there is a neighing sound and the entire bloodthirsty chanting crowd drops silent and looks over their shoulders. What in tarnation is the—
OH MY GOD IT’S CHRISTOPHER LAMBERT ON A HORSE ACCOMPANIED BY A GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY TYPE SOUND ON THE SCORE. He doesn’t say “I don’t THEENK so” in the actual movie, but he says it in our minds. They refuse his request to “cut her loose,” so he kills like 15 guys with mini-crossbows and blunt instruments. He unveils various fancy weapons, catches somebody’s spear and uses it to pole vault and do a bunch of flips, basically just acts like a Caucasian Blade and rescues her. But when he takes her and heads for the outpost she’s so scared to go back that she runs back to the mob and gets axed in the face.
Beowulf convinces the outpost to let him in and tells Hrothgar he’s there to help with “the darkness.” He befriends the “assistant weaponsmaster” (Brent Jefferson Lowe) and others, and Hrothgar’s daughter Kyra (Rhona Mitra, previously in A KID IN ALADDIN’S PALACE and as “Girl with Joint” in CROUPIER) is a jerk to him until deciding she likes him. The chief of security Roland (Götz Otto, TOMORROW NEVER DIES) is in love with her and seems jealous of him the second he arrives.
Beowulf semi-proves himself by sensing evil right before another “the beast” attack, and there’s some drama because of a backstory where Kyra’s husband died and she thinks people think she did it and also she thinks the monster is there to punish her. They have more fights with the monster, Beowulf is injured saving Roland’s life and earns his respect but then freaks everybody out by magically healing, etc. Also we meet the real villain, this crimped-haired gal right here, portrayed by Playboy’s Miss October 1987 Layla Roberts (ARMAGEDDON):
Crimped hair is such a dated look, but it does make sense that it would be a status symbol in a post-apocalyptic dark age. Old school crimpers gotta be hard to find, and harder for a blacksmith to weld. So this is smart hairstyling/world building. Hats off.
At first I thought Grendel could turn into a lady for seduction purposes, like Freddy Krueger or Bugs Bunny. But of course this is Grendel’s Mother or, as she was called in the original poem, “the Angelina Jolie character.” Towards the end she confronts Hrothgar in front of Kyra and he’s forced to confess his dalliance with her. Here’s Kyra’s expression upon learning that her dad fucked some monster lady and that’s why her mom killed herself and also the monster that’s been killing everybody that she blamed on herself is his son who now might inherit everything:
The only thing that’s more shocking is that Kyra falls for Beowulf and I wondered what the age gap was and then I found out that I’m older than Lambert was at that time and therefore older than Raiden what the fuck is going on here. Anyway, on the topic of magic again, I got a kick out of the scene where she makes a pass at him saying “Tonight I’m full of magic” and then in their post-coital scene he says “You were right, it was your magic that brought me here” and she says “Then maybe it will be my magic that brings you back” and do you get it, by magic she means lady parts. Also it’s pretty funny when they’re having a talk and he suddenly hears weird noises of evil and has to leave. It’s real, but if it wasn’t it would be a funny way to get out of a conversation.
Stunt coordinator John Medlen had worked on MORTAL KOMBAT: ANNIHILATION, and went on to be stunt coordinator for Mortal Kombat: Conquest [sic], THE SPIRIT and LEGION. He was also Adrian Paul’s double in HIGHLANDER: ENDGAME. The fuel of this thing, the thing that makes it kind of a blast, is, to be frank, the number of flips Beowulf does. This guy just loves doing flips! When I say “flips” I’m including that thing where you jump up and kick a guy in the chin and do a flip, when you jump off a thing and do a bunch of flips, also when you do a whole bunch of handsprings in a row for no reason, like in THE BLUES BROTHERS. Sometimes doing the flips honestly seems counter-productive, like when he jumps down to save Kyra but he flips backwards so it’s clearly only about being awesome and not at all about getting from point A to point B. I enjoyed the flips in his first scene, and was surprised that their frequency only increases as the film progresses. Most filmmakers don’t understand the importance of ramping up flip numbers.
Anyway, nothing against Lambert’s swordsmanship, but there is nothing about his movements that indicates he is particularly agile, so every single time Beowulf starts flipping it is an absurd delight. During the climactic fight he does a whole bunch in a row and I love that they dub in little Lambert grunts to aid in the illusion.
And as I alluded to at the beginning, Grendel’s Mother morphs into a SPECIES-esque CG demon beast for the climactic fight. The FX are MUMMY-RETURNS-bad in some frames but I dig it in a way similar to how I dig a dated stop motion shot or something. It’s cute.
We also get one of those endings where they imply they’re gonna go off and have more adventures together, after she talks him him into letting her come with him despite his show-offy claim that it’s too dangerous to be with him. Jesus christ Beowulf, get over yourself.
“It’s clear to me that by your side is the safest place to be,” she says.
“I can’t make you any guarantees,” he laughs.
“I’ll take that chance,” she says, and they laugh as they ride off and the castle that inspired her 30 seconds ago to say, “I lost everyone I loved in that place. My whole life was there” explodes behind them.
I definitely didn’t know about this movie when Dimension released it. They certainly weren’t hyping it like they would a SCREAM movie. I couldn’t find it on any box office charts, but based on the alleged release dates I’ve found I think it got a limited release on the Wednesday before THE MATRIX came out (not sure why that didn’t pan out) and then a video release in the same month that Dimension put out HELLRAISER: INFERNO and “THE LEGEND OF DRUNKEN MASTER.”
I wish it somehow was popular and there were a couple sequels for me to check out next, but apparently it didn’t go over well. Wikipedia sums up the reasons for everyone hating it as,”the weak script, below-average acting, corny dialogue, deviations from the source material, and over-reliance on camp.” And that’s yet another kind of magic, because 20 plus years later, who gives a shit? I agree that some of that stuff makes it not good, but it sure doesn’t make it not enjoyable.
The two screenwriters only have one other credit each: Mark Leahy as a co-producer on the 2000 DUNGEONS & DRAGONS movie, and David Chappe on an episode of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. This was the last solo film for English director Graham Baker, who was not hugely prolific, but he did manage to do OMEN IV: THE FINAL CONFLICT, IMPULSE, ALIEN NATION and the John Stamos movie BORN TO RIDE.
But this was the end of producer Lawrence Kasanoff – who had founded Lightstorm Entertainment with James Cameron before becoming the MORTAL KOMBAT guy – trying to make cool techno music action movies. Since this he’s only been involved in computer animated children’s i.p.sploitation crap including some pre-LEGO® MOVIE Lego® shows, the post-LEGO® MOVIE film BOBBLEHEADS: THE MOVIE, and of course his legendary directorial work about horrifying animated corporate mascots coming to life, FOODFIGHT! His company Threshold also made our “favorite HERSHEY’S treats come to life as never before in a stunning 3D animated musical adventure!” at Hershey’sChocolate World headquarters in Hershey, Pennsylvania. He currently holds the movie rights to Tetris.