In case you haven’t heard, there was a movie version of Beowulf that came out in 2007. It is known for using motion capture, a special effect also used in “The Polar Express”. I recently got to watch it, and I won’t beat around the bush- it was awful! The plot was ridiculous and the history was even worse!
The basic plot line starts like the original. King Hrothgar of the Danes builds Herot Hall, where his thanes can all celebrate and feast. Grendel, the monster in the swamp, attacks Herot Hall killing 30 or so warriors and going back to his lair. Hrothgar, in his despair shuts down the hall for 12 years. The news of this awful deed spreads to Beowulf, a hero who has vanquished many monsters, and he comes to Hrothgar’s aid as Beowulf’s father was in Hrothgar’s debt. Beowulf and his men stay and feast in the hall and he gets attracted to Hrothgar’s wife, Wealtheow. Wealtheow seems unhappy, but the reason is not yet known. Hrothgar promises Beowulf, if he can kill Grendel, he can have his most prized treasure, which he stole from the dragon, Fafnir, (who in the original story, does not come up until the end). That night, Beowulf waits for Grendel, and when he comes, fights him entirely naked! He has a more prolonged struggle with Grendel than in the original story, and ends up restraining Grendel with a chain on Grendel’s arm and Grendel’s arm is ripped off when Grendel struggles free. It is revealed Grendel had hypersensitive hearing, and the noise in Herot Hall was physically painful to Grendel’s ears, motivating him to go on the rampage. Hrothgar rewards Beowulf as promised, but Grendel’s mother, witnessing the death of her son, vows revenge. Grendel’s mother kills more warriors in the hall the next night, to everyone’s dismay. Beowulf goes down in her lair to battle her, a beautiful naked woman with a tail and built-in 6 inch women’s pumps for feet! She seduces him, and he comes back and lies to Hrothgar that he killed her. It is later revealed Hrothgar had a secret affair with her, and that’s why Wealtheow is so unhappy (that is not in the original story at all!) This time, Beowulf gets Hrothgar’s kingdom as reward, to succeed Hrothgar as king. Hrothgar, out of guilt for his wrongdoings with Grendel’s mother, kills himself by jumping out of a castle window into the sea (also not in the original!) Years pass, and king Beowulf rules the people and takes Wealtheow as his own wife. One day, a man comes and gives Beowulf back the treasure he gave back to Grendel’s mother, haunting the now much older Beowulf. A dragon is angered by this, and burns the whole village! Beowulf goes to fight the dragon, and a huge battle ensues. The dragon is revealed to be Grendel’s mother’s and his own child! The dragon flies over his castle, knocking down much of the wall and endangering his wife. Beowulf rides it and holds on, spotting a weak spot in it’s throat and pierces it. It exposes the dragon’s heart and lungs, and Beowulf tries to stab it with his sword, but can’t get near it. He drops the sword, and resorts to cutting his own arm off in order to reach the heart. He dangled by his chain mail sleeve alone, and ripped out the dragon’s heart with his bear hands! This kills the dragon, and Beowulf is mortally wounded himself and dies shortly after, concluding the movie.
Overall, the movie deserves a 1 out of 5! There was absolutely no historical accuracy at all! Almost none, except for the names!
The armor was more like “World of Warcraft”, or some other “dark ages” video game, than real Anglo-Saxon armor, (probably not a coincidence!), and so was everyone else’s clothing! There was no reference to anything historical in Saxon culture either, except some superfluous mention of “the Christ-god”, but religion played no role whatsoever as a theme in that movie historically or otherwise! Another huge issue was all the nudity and gore. Violence is in the original story, but none of the nudity and sex appeal! A woman with bare breasts, a naked Angelina Jolie as Grendel’s mother, (who is way too young to be Grendel’s mother and too hot! One wonders why she had such an ugly son!), and Beowulf in his birthday-suit! The most distracting scene by far was Beowulf fighting Grendel naked! The story said he fought unarmed, to fight as an equal, but it didn’t mean he was naked! Also, they tried to hide his privates almost like a running gag, but in full seriousness, also distracting! Also, Angelina Jolie as Grendel’s mother was way too absurd! She was way too young, and she was a monster in the story! Also to top off the fact she was buck naked, her feet were literally 6 inch women’s heels! Like, sexy pumps! Bear in mind, the story is supposed to take place in the 6th century, so far, the historical record has no such finds of 6 inch sexy pumps dating from that time-period. What a blatant anachronism! In addition to all of this ridiculousness, the whole love triangle in the plot was entirely fabricated! The actual plot of Beowulf is much, much simpler! Also, the gore was also over the top. Violence is expected, as they were a warring culture, but the blood spattering and the graphic zoom-ins were just too much! Those two elements, in addition to the numerous plot deviations, gave this movie a 1 in my book!
Overall, I’m not opposed to approaching literature from another view point, or a different angle, not at all, but if one is to market the work as the original, one should try to honor the writer and stay true to the real story line. (The only thing I did appreciate was the stunning anatomical accuracy in how they rendered the dragon’s heart and lungs in it’s chest cavity!) I would love to see a historical Beowulf in the movies someday! Movies can help people appreciate history, but changing and dumbing down the story, does history no service at all! check out this other review!