Beowulf the Movie

Beowulf the Movie

Having written the sequel, I had to go see the original. Well, the original as reimagined by Hollywood screen writers who had this problem: how do you take a tale over a thousand years old, that many remember as having been pushed on them by a high school teacher who didn’t understand it herself, and make it come alive for today’s audience? Never underestimate Hollywood writers. They’ve done a brilliant job.

First, they turned up the volume for a generation deafened by rock music. Then they brought in elements from enough other movies to appeal to those who aren’t likely to respond to a tale out of the Dark Ages. For the senior citizens, there are images out of Moby Dick with Gregory Peck as Captain Ahab. Remember that final scene with Gregory Peck pinned to the white whale and stabbing away at it as he mutters “Thou damned whale”? So they roped Beowulf to the dragon as he stabs away at it saying “Damn you.” For the baby boomers, fondly remembering James Bond and that gold-painted girl from Goldfinger they give us Angelina Jolie’s technologically enhanced image washed in gold. For the Harry Potter set, there’s a dragon and some of the left over movie sets from Lord of the Rings. Something for everyone.

Yes, friends, this movie has it all. In fact, there are many episodes which can even be traced back to the original version of Beowulf. Does the original have a dead king sent off in a burial ship and Beowulf cremated? So send Beowulf off in a burial ship and set fire to it. Is Beowulf joined in his final struggle with the dragon by a young warrior called Wiglaf? So bring Wiglaf in from the very beginning as loyal Tonto to Beowulf’s Lone Ranger.

Of course, Beowulf didn’t succeed Hrothgar as king in the original nor did it all take place in Denmark. If you really want to be picky, you could point out that in the original Beowulf, King Hrothgar does not father Grendel having been seduced by Grendel’s mother nor does Beowulf get seduced by Beowulf’s mother, nor is the dragon just Grendel’s mother in another form. But notice how the Hollywood writers have tightened up a famously loose and wandering text by bringing all these elements together. Brilliant! And they’ve left the door open to a sequel by bringing the seductive Ms. Jolie out of the waters at the end and leaving Wiglaf looking out at her doubtfully.

Does Wiglaf fall for the femme fatale? You can wait for Hollywood to come back at us in another year or two or you can buy the sequel now at your nearest bookstore. It’s called Beyond Beowulf – and I’m pondering a second revised edition with a big part for Angelina. Hollywood can reach me through my web site.

1 Comment

AnonymousNovember 24th, 2007 at 1:15 pm


You are wonderful!

I have been looking ahead over the past weeks with considerable trepidation wondering how you would react to the movie version. The two pre-views that I saw were so bizarre that I was convinced that you, as the preserver of the Beowulf Legend would be incensed.

But, you have turned it all around, everted the whole exercise, so that more people will now be familiar with the legend!

Trust that you had a grand Thanksgiving!!


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