A real proper old-fashioned Sunday afternoon film – epic in intention, ludicrous in execution. Considered to be unwatchable when it was test-screened, it was partially recast, rescored and reshot – by Michael Crichton, writer of the original book, who took over from John McTiernan, his Die Hard and Predator experience counting, apparently, for nothing. Crichton’s intervention doesn’t save it. Perhaps nothing could. Perhaps it was jinxed by the presence of Omar Sharif, an adornment of so many terrible films of a similar sort in days of yore. Or by his Nineties successor, Antonio Banderas. It’s an adaptation of the Old English epic poem Beowulf and Banderas plays Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan, a Muslim banished to the Nordic wastes for flashing his kohl-rimmed eyes at the wrong woman. Having been received by the oafish, drunken Vikings, he learns their language in a trice and is soon taking part in raiding parties, pulling on his sandals and strapping on chainmail with the best of them. Eventually this palls and so everyone heads off on a dragon-killing quest. Ahmed’s new chums, a sort of multinational Norse eleven – with guest turns from familiar Scottish and Irish bit-players – are all manly men and immensely likeable. The film is too, at some level, and has the sort of disregard for historical accuracy that we expect, and even demand, from Hollywood. The sword-on-sword action is probably McTiernan’s rather than Crichton’s work but neither director seems to have had much luck getting a performance from Banderas, who does little more than stand around looking moody. As for Sharif, he hated the film so much he threatened to give up acting, until wiser counsel (probably his accountant) prevailed. Does this not sound unmissable?
© Steve Morrissey 2013