Beowulf, the Movie--For Real This Time ~ BitterSweetLife

Monday, November 19, 2007

Beowulf, the Movie--For Real This Time

If they had actually been in their graves, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis would have compulsorily turned over when Beowulf and Grendel was released, to critical disdain, in 2005. The ancient story was loved by them both (glimpses can be seen in their writing), and Tolkien wrote an influential essay, "Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics."

However, the latest film incarnation of the epic poem might just meet with their approval--although I'm not sure what they would say about the choice to cast Angelina Jolie as the mother of the monster, Grendel. Creative liberty has definitely been taken, but perhaps it would be offset by the presence of Anthony Hopkins, who played Lewis, after all, in Shadowlands...

At any rate, Beowulf the Movie looks much more promising this time around. Writes esteemed critic S.T. Karnick:

In addition to its considerable literary merits, Beowulf is significant as the first Christian epic poem. Composed some time in the eight to tenth centuries A.D. in what is now England, and set in Scandinavia in the fifth and sixth centurues, the poem, whose author is now lost to history (and which is probably taken from oral sources), tells of events in pagan times but explicitly places them in a Christian context and explains their meaning in thoroughly Christian terms.

Thus in addition to being a rousing adventure story and epic tale of civilizational struggle, the poem is a fascinating document of Europe's transition from paganism to Christianity.

The current film adaptation, directed in a stylized, full CGI presentation by Robert Zemeckis from a screenplay by Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary, brings this element to the fore.

And in memorable fashion, if the trailer is any indication. We will be seeing this one. However, do yourself a favor and read the book first! My favorite translation is by the Irish poet Seamus Heaney. Highly recommended. If you've read Tolkien, Beowulf is like "roots" material, with a starkly beautiful storyline, huge battles, and dramatic heroism.

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John B. said...

One of my students just saw the film. I don't want to spoil your viewing, but: based on his synopsis, I think you'll need to prepare yourself to see some, um, liberties taken with the original.

I'll be interested to hear your response.

Ariel said...

Thanks for the warning. I can tell from what I've read that there have been adaptations. The question is whether or not they are justified by the way the serve the film the LOTR movies, for example, I could eventually wink at the liberties Peter Jackson took (most of them, anyway) because they made sense in the context of the big screen.

Are you planning to see the movie? If so, I would love to hear your take as well.


Culture. Photos. Life's nagging questions. - BitterSweetLife