Beowulf


I neglected blogging yesterday in favor of working out, a writing workshop with a local author at the public library and a date with my husband. We discovered a charming Greek place for dinner complete with belly dancer and smashing plates and then took in the late showing in the new Beowulf movie at what passes for a movie theater in the Fort. And I guess you could call it a movie though the characters and setting were completely CGI it wasn’t exactly Shrek or any of the animated DVD selections that my daughter watches. The characters were not only voiced by real actors but their characters were created to look like the actor in question as well – with enhancements, of course.

I had to read an old English version of Beowulf during my senior year of high school back at Walhert High School in Dubuque, Iowa. The teacher was young. A wrestling coach with a Neandrathal forehead and a really thick neck and a surprising passion for English literature. I can’t recall anything about that particular foray into Beowulf beyond an LP (yes, I am that old) Mr.Wojan played for us of some reading a passage from the story in an even older version of what would someday be the language my friends and I slaughtered on a daily basis. The first time I really looked at the story of Beowulf was when I discovered a set of the Robert Nye version. I was teaching 7th grade and Nye’s version was visually stimulating with all sorts of gruesome and quite disgusting images that I was certain 12 and 13 year olds would love. It was a monster story in poem form, and my students plowed through it with gusto. As an added bonus I threw in some Norse Mythology and a bit of Viking history. Beowulf ranks right up there with Greek Mythology, folk tales and Hamlet as my most successful teaching units. So, I was curious to see the Robert Zemeckis version, and I was disappointed. The story is well-told if not exactly the way I remember it.

Beowulf is the story of a hero by that same name who travels from Geat to the kingdom of Hrothgar to kill a monster who is plaguing the King and his people. The monster, Grendel, is suitably grotesque and a somewhat sympathetic character. When Beowulf finally dispatches it by pounding a hole in its head and ripping and arm from its body so that it slowly bleeds to death as it makes its way back to the lair of its mother, you almost feel sorry for it. Grendel’s mother is a sea demon who it turns out had seduced King Hrothgar because she wanted a son, Grendel, and in return gave Hrothgar power, riches and personal invincibility. When Beowulf goes to the lair to kill her, after she has attacked Beowulf’s men seeking justice, she offers Beowulf the same deal and he takes it. A bit of a twist on the “selling your soul to the devil” and “doing the right thing” message that is interesting because the film makes it clear that Christianity was still in its infancy in the part of the world where the story is set. I like the old epics and myths that remind us that the world was not just a pagan free-for-all until Christianity came along to save us.

Visually, the CGI is faintly reminiscent of a video game, albeit a really good one, but that doesn’t detract from action or the story though I wonder a bit how much more interesting it might have been to watch had the actors been live.