There’s an interesting article in Salon today comparing the new Beowulf film by Robert Zemeckis with Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Much better researched and argued than usual for its type. And it gets major bonus points from me for the author’s discussion of Tolkien’s landmark essay, “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics” as well as for quoting from his poem, “Mythopoeia.”
Here’s a nice excerpt that gets straight to the point of how and why Zemeckis’s Beowulf is fundamentally flawed (even if it may be an exciting and dazzling visual spectacle — I haven’t seen it yet):
“Beowulf” doesn’t fail because it changes the story: It fails because it is so busy juicing up the story that it does not create a mythical universe. It has no transfiguring vision. It seizes upon an ancient tale, whose invisible roots run deep into our psyches, and uses it to construct a shiny, plastic entertainment. It takes a wild fable and turns it into a tame story. But “Beowulf” is the kind of story that is meaningless unless it is part of a cosmology. It is, in short, a myth.
A very astute criticism.
Has anyone seen the film yet? Anyone planning to? I probably will, but with carefully managed expectations. I haven’t seen any of the previous film versions, but I have read Michael Crichton’s The Thirteenth Warrior (the novel’s original — and better — title is Eaters of the Dead). A very enjoyable retelling of the myth. Speaking of which, another very original adaptation is John Gardner’s Grendel.