Beowulf Anxiety Syndrome
I have a bad case of BAS (Beowulf [the Movie] Anxiety Syndrome), so I'm curious to hear what y'all are thinking about it. I already know I'm going to go see it: it's pretty much de rigeur if you're a medievalist who plans to teach undergraduates or visit the local watering hole. But I'm feeling particularly apprehensive about the whole thing.
In part, that's because most other mass-media interpretations of Beowulf have been appallingly awful and because even the rather pallid translation in my undergraduate anthology could not keep me from loving Beowulf at first sight. (I was warned that I'd hate it, which just made the experience that much more fun. **) The combination of those two factors means that I desperately want Beowulf to finally get, if not the movie it deserves, then at least a movie that doesn't reduce it to a creaky and appalling wreck.
Anyway, on the one hand, uhm, Angelina Jolie plays Grendel's mother (check out the trailer, which is available here). Hmm. Not sure what I think about that. I mean, I do think there's good reason to read a certain gendered/sexual frisson into Beowulf's encounter with Ms. Bad-Ass. But she's supposed to be a troll, and she didn't seem to be interested in making any babies with Our Hero--she was too busy trying to kill him. So, yeah, I dunno.
On the other hand, don't ask me why, because I don't think I know myself, but Crispin Glover as the basis for Grendel strikes me as being an inspired, interesting, and unexpected choice.
You'll notice that I focus on the monsters first. I always like the monsters best. Frankly, I could very nearly care less who plays Beowulf himself. Wealtheow is another matter, of course, but I'm reasonably satisfied with the idea of Robin Wright Penn in that role.
I'm also not sure how I feel about the whole combination live-action/animation thing. To be honest, it looks a bit clunky from what I've seen in the trailers.
On the other hand, I do want to believe in this movie. I am always so hopeful about medieval films--maybe because most of them seem to be so disappointing. Sure, a successful film version would mean would mean un-teaching students some things as part of teaching the text, but it also would mean that at least a few more of them might approach the poem with some enthusiasm and sense of context.
Anyway, I'm not categorically against re-interpretations, anachronisms, and inaccuracies in medieval(esque) films--so long as they're part of a generally creative and interesting revision, that's fine by me. Stories naturally adapt over time, and there's a legitimate, understandable need for cultural translation from an eleventh-century epic poem in Old English to a twenty-first century film in that language's distant offspring.
I'll admit that I also want to believe in Neil Gaiman, whose work I admire for its general ethical complexity and dark sense of humor. So far as his film projects go, I thought Stardust was sweetly enjoyable, and I absolutely love Mirrormask.
But, then again, as befits a dyed-in-the-wool neurotic, the very fact that I so very much want this movie to be good makes me nervous all over again. Sigh.
So. What do you think? Should I be hopeful or cynical?
(P.S. You also might find this recent interpretation of Beowulf from The London Times interesting . . . )
* Sorry about the cheesy Joss Whedon reference. Sometimes I just can't help myself.
**Of course, the same people gave me dire warnings about Alexander Pope, and I thought he was marvelous. The Rape of the Lock still makes me laugh until I cry--particularly if I skip that whole Cave of Spleen section.