Wednesday, October 1, 2008

versions of Beowulf

Ok, so I said I wouldn’t do it but I did. I watched the animated version. It was a dvd. It was free. I wasn’t doing anything else. (Enough excuses?)

I don’t understand why anyone would jump up and down and complain that “they’ changed the story. Every culture retells the stories of the past to make sense of them. Most people’s knowledge of Beowulf is through translation, or picture books, which are both retellings.

What’s interesting is that both the recent filmed versions have gone out of their way to reduce Beowulf, to make him flawed and fallible. (Okay, I left the ‘Thirteenth Warrior’ out, but as long as you ignore the Beowulf parallels that’s a mindless but entertaining piece. If you don’t, you get stuck wondering how something that sounds like Bulywyf can be a man’s name).

It seems odd in a society that worships physical heroes, pays them millions to kick or run with a ball or swim up and down a chemically infested pond, these films should seem so worried about a character who is famous for his courage and strength.

The one filmed in Iceland turns him into Raymond Chandler’s Marlowe in chain mail, the sea monsters he fights are your everyday eels that are still chewing his calves as he staggers out of the water. (At least the scenery was awesome.) In the animated version our Cockney hero lies about his prowess, lusts after his lord’s wife, screws monsters, begets dragons, gets cooked.

Why is that an industry which churns out films about totally unbelievable action heroes (Any Arnie movie, Die Hard, James Bond, Mission Impossible etcetc ) and has no problems with monsters (King Kong, Godzilla, Alien, Predator, Vampires, Zombies) is so determined to reduce the medieval hero and so blind to the fact that Beowulf is not really Arnie in his Predator role meets King Kong in the mead hall...but an argument about the costs and limitations of the values it celebrates?

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