[Milton-L] 17th Century contexts

Roy Flannagan roy at gwm.sc.edu
Thu Nov 29 14:01:47 EST 2007

I just reviewed the Beowulf movie for the local media here in Beaufort.  I certainly hope that no English majors here say "I'm not reading the book because I saw the movie!"

Roy Flannagan

                       	Beowulf, the Computer-Enhanced Movie

	The god of Wrothgar in the Beowulf movie seems to be Epicurus, not Odin, even if Anthony Hopkins, in character, often says, drunkenly, “Thank you, Odin.”  Poor old Sir Anthony has to show off enhanced muscular arms and lots of blubber as he appears as inelegantly nude from the rear as did Jack Nicholson in As Good as it Gets.  Angelina Jolie, now called Angewulf in various blogs*well, she is another thing naked in gold paint.  I guess all those old Geats, Angles, and Saxons used to party naked in the seedy meadhalls that in the movie look like road houses on a Fifties rural dirt road in the South.

	The movie is special-effected, rather than acted, even though the director, Tribeca or Duckmuckus, whatever his name is, has bought very expensive stars in Hopkins, Jolie, and John Malkovitch; and the actor who plays Beowulf in the buff, Ray Winstone, is undoubtedly an experienced actor underneath his enhanced, synthetic facial expressions and his all-too-perfect abs.  For some reason, Winstone uses a Welsh accent to play a Geat.  But, for his character, computer-generated imagery rules.

	Don’t go to see the movie right after having read Beowulf the epic poem, because then you will wonder why Wealtheow, wife of Hrothgar, played by Robin Wright Penn, starts flirting with Beowulf as if she were Isolde married to King Mark and flirting with Tristan*or as if she were Lancelot’s girly-girl Guinevere, off on her fling from King Arthur.  All those medieval romances look alike, according to Zemeckis and his writers.  And Grendel in the cartoonish movie is a rotting corpsy thing, something like the Gollum in Ring movies but able to fling Jutes or Geats or Danes from one end of the hall to another with a one-handed toss (until Beowulf rips his arm off, of course).  He is not, as in the epic, spawn of Satan and descendant of Cain, and Christianity is sadly mocked in the movie and made to seem second-fiddle to the worship of Odin.  In the epic, Grendel and his mother are both emissaries of Satan, sent to punish humankind for evil human deeds.  In the movie, they are either slimy or beautiful in gold leaf, and they have little or no theological significance.

	Grendel’s mother is not younger than Grendel in the epic, or golden, or naked: she is a certified evil, strong old hag.  She is fought with under water: she doesn’t rise out of it slowly like the sword in some “wartery tart’s” arm coming out of a puddle.  You can tell that I like Monty Python and the Holy Grail better than I do this movie, which takes itself too seriously, for the sake of all the teenaged boys who are drawn to its violence, its teasing nudity, and its noise.

	I guess it is good for the continuity in the movie’s plot to have the dragon that Beowulf fights in his declining years occasionally look like another of the shapes shifted into by Angiewulf, and for Angie-the-demon-bitch-goddess to be making out with the body of Beowulf as it burns in his ship burial, as he seems to be returning to the really sexy love of his youth, the beautiful Jolie hag.

	As an English professor, I don’t know what exactly could be done with Beowulf in the movies, since it is a Christianized heroic wolfy folk tale written down by monks in about 1000 AD.  In today’s idiom, the plot certainly appears to have cartoon elements, though I don’t think computerized graphic images are the way to make a cartoon based on primitive fears of swamp monsters facing totemistic super-strong, battle-hardened heroes.  If I were making the movie on a human scale, a character-based movie, I might use a giant like the guy in the early Bond movies or an NFL tight end in the role of the monster, and, I guess, a pumped-up Brad Pitt type as Beowulf*the type Brad Pitt played in Troy.  Hrothgar, Wealtheow, Unferth, and Wiglaf could all be played by fairly ordinary actors who could act kingly or queenly or snidely or loyally.  And the mead hall should be a fairly substantial standalone structure, not a kind of outhouse adjacent to some sort of fairy tale futuristic medieval town as it is in the movie.  Things going on in the mead hall could be drunken, yes, but not as if we were attending a Roman Saturnalia with a paunchy Trimalchio figure leading the chuggers.  And, I’m sorry, but really pretty modern women like Angelina Jolie and Robin Wright Penn don’t belong in an era of crooked teeth and dred-locks not just for battle-worn men but for the hags they married.

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