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Holiday Movie Preview: Beowulf Just Might Be AWESOME

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The more I hear about the upcoming Neil Gaiman-penned Beowulf (slated for release in late November), the more reasons I have to believe that this film is going to be awesome. First of all, it's a classic story with bloody conflicts, a rugged hero, a despicable yet sympathetic villain, and lots of mead-drinking and speechifying. Even if you don't normally get jazzed about poetry, Seamus Heaney's Whitbread-Award winning translation is a satisfying read: Heaney masters the guttural but beautiful inflections of the original Old English while still maintaining an accessible, fast-paced tempo.

For those of you who skipped out on the first few weeks of Medieval Lit, here's a quick recap:

Beowulf is a bad-ass Dark Ages dude in the school of Bruce and Arnold. He rides into a neighboring Danish town to help out his friend King Hrothgar, whose happy meadhall has been terrorized of late by this crazy-ass demon, Grendel. Imagine Grendel as Gollum on steroids, and you've pretty much got the picture.* Beowulf and Grendel get into a wicked wrestling match; Beowulf tears off Grendel's arm (apparently there's Christ-imagery involved, but whatever), JOY IN THE CASTLE, end of part one.

Part two: Grendel's mom gets pissed off that this meathead mutilated her baby, and SHE starts terrorizing the castle. Beowulf has to track her down in her underwater lair (yes, the guy can breathe underwater, TOLD YOU he's awesome). Kills her with a magic sword, natch.

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Part three, many years later, we see Beowulf as an old and awesome king, but oh no! A dragon has been disturbed and is terrorizing his people! He's gotta put the smack down, but dies in the effort, bravely and without regrets. There is much tearing of hair and keening by the wimmenfolk; he gets sent off in a glorious blazing death-barge.

Pretty good, right? I'm hoping version of the film might just get it (unlike Beowulf and Grendel): first of all, Neil Gaiman is writing it, and if you grew up reading The Sandman like I did, you know that this man understands myth and culture and language and the ethos of honor in death. I'm predicting the filmmakers (Robert Zemeckis is directing) will probably focus on the first two episodes and either ignore or gloss over the Elder-Beowulf storyline.

Then, of course, there's the cast.