Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


‘Beowulf’ movie short on poetry

The epic, canonical story of the hero Beowulf is one that
has been passed on for centuries and is arguably the best preserved story that
exists from early British literature. Unfortunately, novelist Neil Gaiman and
screenwriter Robert Avary of "Pulp Fiction" combined forces to write a script
full of colloquial one-liners and an attempt at cinematic glory that leaves the
film's audience feeling confused and indignant.

Of course, this response was definitely dependent on what
each person showed up to see. On one hand, most people could assume a Hollywood
effort of this scope was not intended for intense Beowulf, Old English-speaking
enthusiasts who have read multiple translations of the epic. Anything with a
computer-generated image of Angelina Jolie that seduces, kills and speaks in a
poorly-accented, grandiose manner cannot be fit for the intensely scholastic
intellectual. On the other hand, the gratuitous violence combined with oblique
references to honor, treasure and dysfunctional sexual affairs would come off
as completely bizarre and seemingly nonsensical to anyone who has never been
exposed to the poem itself. (Personally, I lie in the middle of this binary; I've
read Beowulf carefully, but I have no real love or passion for what it
accomplishes in the genre of English literature.) The indication that this
effort by Oscar-winning director Robert Zemeckis, who was responsible for
"Forrest Gump," "Back to the Future" and "Castaway," is a complete fiasco is that
it fails to reach all three of the abovementioned groups.

Beside it being a series of uninspired dialogue (like when
the main character screams "I am Beowulf!" after each macho, crudely violent thing
he accomplishes), the computer-generated format was a horrible basis for
putting a serious, traditional epic on the silver screen. To be fair, it would
be hard and equally as off-putting to see real actors attempt a story that is
full of mythical creatures and larger than life scenes. To take such a staple
of English literature, however, and portray it as a cartoon is a ludicrous
notion. In "Big Fish," viewers were presented with larger than life characters
and themes with actual people, and director Tim Burton challenged the viewer to
accept his vision into the collective imagination — and he succeeded. In
another sense, the computer-generated format is one that can be successful for
an adult audience — think "South Park," "Family Guy" and even "The Simpsons."
Creators of these shows were able to push the envelope and express meaning in a
way that is almost less offensive and more acceptable simply because it isn't
real people. In the case of this film, however, the head-biting and
limb-ripping type of violence is the type that doesn't mesh well with lofty
themes of honor and tradition, most especially in a computer-generated format.


With horrible dialogue and its bizarre animated nature, many
people automatically assume that "Beowulf" is bound to be hokey and strange.
It's hard to imagine just how sexualized the epic is, though. The invention
that King Beowulf had a wife he cuckolded from his predecessor as well as a
hot, young mistress is a huge diversion from the actual plot that cannot be
tolerated. Even worse is the melodramatic way in which he dies to save both
women. Granted, modern artistic efforts are hugely inclusive and desperate for
any and all things romantic, especially in the mainstream, but this was just
over the top.

Despite the aptly anticipated displeasure experienced upon
viewing this film, a few things are done well. The writers and director are wise
to include major themes of the epic that everyone can identify; honor and
family are well-represented and truthful to all that we know about the story.
Furthermore, the writers intelligently tweak the almost two separate stories
that exist in Beowulf into one surprisingly complex yet cohesive storyline. By
introducing the notion that the monster Grendel was born as a result of King
Hrothgar's affair with Grendel's mother, the writers are able to combine the
story of Grendel with the very independently depicted story of the dragon, as
the dragon in the film was a result of King Beowulf's copycat affair with
Grendel's mother. This aspect of the film is reminiscent of the ingenuity and
creativity that Gaiman and Avary were handpicked for.

To top off the experience, the movie is shown in 3-D on an
Imax screen. A cheap ploy to immerse the viewer further into the gore and
action of the insubstantial film, the experience would be less offensive if it
weren't for the 3-D tendency of enhancing the poorly attempted comical,
cartoon-ish side that was film's weakest element.

All in all, the promotion team for this film must have had a
hard time choosing whom to market it to; lovers of Beowulf as well as general
movie-watchers ambivalent to really old poems will probably fail to enjoy or
understand the disaster that is "Beowulf." While the struggle to compress such
a literary classic into something entertaining and accessible is commendable,
there is a fine distinction between what is good and what is bad in
book-to-screen projects. The epic of Beowulf is better left in the hands of
unwilling students who realize they are reading it simply because it is so old,
and the uncommon individuals who derive unique yet endearing joy from the grand
narrative that will comfortably remain a foundation of the English literary

1 out of 5 stars

Leave a Comment
Donate to The Badger Herald

Your donation will support the student journalists of University of Wisconsin-Madison. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
Donate to The Badger Herald

Comments (0)

All The Badger Herald Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *