November 21, 2007
Beowulf ynne thae fylmmen? Hwaet tha fukkke? Godes yrre baer.
That great hard-of-hearing epic, Beowulf, the one that actually begins with a shout of "WHAT!" (spelled Hwaet!), has made it onto the big silver mead-hall screen. A great line from one review says "as you may remember from Cliff's Notes. . . .", but your humble servant actually has read the thing in its original, um, English and always wondered how, aside from some good monsters, this drama-less one-dimensional Dark Age gangsta rap could possibly be made into a good story. I haven't seen the film yet, but I shouldn't have been surprised at Hollywood's ingenuity in that area: they made stuff up.
Beowulf is now to be an anti-hero rather than the solid strait-laced eviscerating Boy Scout of the epic. He is anti-Christian, rather than the monotheistic Viking of the story. Grendel's mom is given a shapely form, rather than being an even skankier version of Medusa. And there is a character arc and plot and everythng.
Blasphemy and travesty.
Why? Kids'll get an F if they try to cheat by using it.
Beowulf is the greatest Anglo-Saxon* epic because it's the only one known. It was actually a forgotten epic until some scholar dug it out of some archive in one of the recent centuries. It perhaps should have been consigned to a curiosity. It is not a great work of dramatic storytelling (it's even got those tedious Nordic recitals -- "slayer of this guy, the slayer of that guy"-- that are made fun of in Monty Python's Njal's Saga); though it is first-rate alliterative rap and imaginative fare.
Your hypernerdy servant, myself, can, on command, recite the coming of Grendel to Hrothgar's home in the original language, even without a DJ.
There is some hidden warning of the collapse of civilization and community values at the end of the epic but in that part of the Middle Ages, that was simply the normal day to day situation.
All in all maybe I should check it out.
* Pedantic point of the day - there is a common expression "WASP" in American English, meaning "White Anglo-Saxon Protestant". But -- think about it now -- there were no Anglo-Saxon Protestants.
Now I saw it ... and realized it's 100% computer animated. I somehow missed that.
I haven't read the Beowulf epic, but enjoyed it anyway, or precisely because of that. Lot's of snarling monsters, nice effects & over-the-top heroics -- although I couldn't help feeling that with a wholly computer generated movie, they should have been able to do something more spectacular, otherwise what's the point? And the drawback is that all characters look dead and acting goes out the window, making it seem even more as a children's adventure story.
But in the end, since I entered with a bag of candy of suitably epic proportions, and with very low expectations, I left the theater thinking that was money & time well spent.
About the above: No, B. does not appear to be Christian, even if some of his sidekicks & possibly the entire kingdom convert during a story jump. But there is a lot of highly suggestive cross-imagery snuck into it, although it's debatable which way it should be interpreted.
Posted by: alle at December 4, 2007 10:00 PM
One for alle --
I may get around to seeing it. If you read the epic, it follows a basic pattern: boy meets monster, boy slays monster, boy slays monster's mom, boy is suddenly an old man, boy dies slaying bigger monster.
No drama or plot tension. It's basically a strutting endless rap song (with alliteration rather than rhyme or assonance), as I characteristically overstress. As such, it's brilliant but there's more drama and character and plot in 10 stanzas of Homer (Greek poet OR Simpson), except maybe the Iliad's ship list.
Beowulf the epic is Christian only in the passive sense that it is monotheistic and laced with bible references, none to the New Testament and none to Jesus personally or even the cross, as I suspect all that stuff is just too soft, as Alex noted in A Clockwork Orange. Grendel is a descendant of Cain and bears his curse.
I imagine the flick is true to its source however in the emphasis on whiz-bang.
Our h.s. English teacher in ancient days pressed the point that Beowulf was the science fiction of its day, and did so by playing a recording of someone reciting the old English alongside a recording of the "Theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey", and in one of those had-to-be-there nerd moments, it was hysterical.
Posted by: matthew hogan at December 5, 2007 09:13 AM
Hmm. The sidebar says there's two comments on this post, one of which I know I wrote, but for some reason they're not visible when clicking the post. Hwaerefore?
Posted by: alle at December 5, 2007 11:29 AM
Now everything is readable again. Odd.
No references to Cain in the movie, except that the king's adviser Unferth has a servant-boy named Cain. But now, when I skimmed through the Wikipedia article to try to find the name of Unferth, I realize that there are MASSIVE storyline changes in the movie. For the better, because what's written there seems exactly as droning and plotless as what you describe. The movie, on the other hand, had some real moral issues made up to create drama (no striking success there). Same thing with the geography: in the movie, mountains look better than this.
(About epics & drama: I remember reading parts of the Roland Song for a literature class once. That one came a bit later, but otherwise much the same: endless, repetitive descriptions of how Roland charges into the Saracen horde and chops turbaned evildoers apart, from head to toe, occasionally including saddle and horse. But I liked it, epic verse tends to become hypnotic after a while.)
Anyway, for me, the main lesson of Beowulf is that Danes are a sinful people who tend to provoke trolls, then call on their Swedish neighbours to come sort it out.
Posted by: alle at December 5, 2007 05:45 PM