Movies / Movie Reviews


By Geoff Hoppe
Nov 26, 2007 - 17:20

No witty introduction can prepare one for the sheer awfulness that is Robert Zemeckis’ Beowulf. So I’ll just list stuff I’d rather do than see Beowulf again:

1) see Rosie O’Donnell go as Lady Godiva for Halloween

2) reread Remembrance of Things Past by literary onanist Marcel Proust

3) wrestle a horny gorilla

4) test the ACME CO. products Wile E. Coyote was too cautious to bother with

5) play a rousing game of “where’s that hand grenade? Oh yeah! My pants!”

6) get creative with Gwen Stefani and her communicable diseases

...drink from the back side and your hiccups go away. Seriously.
Hollywood is no stranger to abusing great books. That cold front that hit eastern seaboard two weeks ago was actually the collective sighs of every dead author ever upon learning of the writer’s strike. Hallelujah! Salvation! For at least a while! Tragically, Beowulf was produced before said merciful strike.

An “epic about men, women and demons,” (but mostly about Angelina Jolie’s gold boobs), Beowulf is inspired by the Anglo-Saxon poem written down sometime in either the tenth or eleventh century, AD. In the poem, Beowulf liberates neighboring King Hrothgar’s lands from a monster, becomes king of his own tribe (the Geats), and dies fighting a dragon. In the movie, he also does those things. Naked. But the dragon isn’t really a dragon, it’s his demon-baby. And he hits it in public. It’s basically medieval Jerry Springer.

Grendel, looking a lot like a muppet.
The film begins with King Anthony Hopkins and some extras from Shrek the Third drinking, belching, and generally demonstrating why Denmark is a world power today. Grendel stomps in, eats a bunch of Danishes, and kills a few more, all in glorious slow motion.

Let me break to say: can we have a “no slo-mo” rule for historical movies? As much as I love watching Renaissance Faire rejects hack each other to bits at four frames a minute, integrity demands we forego this dubious pleasure.

Anyways, Beowulf shows up and brags about the sea monsters he’s killed. Big deal. Plenty of guys wake up every morning and “defeat” a few “sea monsters.” Then they flush them. (But seriously, folks, you’ve been a great audience) Beowulf also loves to shout his name, loudly, a la Matt Damon in Team America. Hrothgar’s people love the B-dawg, save Unferth, a warrior who lilts around Heorot doing his best James Lipton impression. He’s played by John Malkovich, who used to be talented. Beowulf meets his match when Grendel, who hates loud noises, shows up. Our hero yells a lot and jumps around and finally rips off Grendel’s arm. He then celebrates his victory, and the fact that all similarities with the poem are now over.

This was even stupider in 3-D.
Having abandoned any pretenses of accuracy, Beowulf plunges into b-movie Hades. Instead of killing Grendel’s fearsome mother (as he did in the poem), Beowulf is seduced by the lascivious demoness. He lies to Hrothgar’s people, telling them he killed the monster. Twenty years later, the love-child shows up, only he’s a dragon. Admittedly, there is a dragon in the original poem-- but he isn’t Beowulf’s son. The original poet must have thought an aging hero battling a dragon was impressive on its own. Thank god modern audiences have Neil Gaiman to butcher the original story and prop its severed limbs on marionette strings for our garish entertainment.

The biggest problem with Beowulf is how it turns something ancient into something post-modern. Screenwriters Neil Gaiman and Roger Avery fill the film with the concerns of early twenty-first century intellectuals. Beowulf gives into temptation, lusts after numerous women, and ends his life pining after Angelina Jolie and her generic Eurotrash accent. His life is a sad lie, punctuated by mistakes and misgivings. He’s Death of a Salesman’s Willy Loman in leather armor.

Who does his waxing...
Part of what made the original Beowulf so remarkable was that it came from a world that actually believed in dragons, demons, and dark, nasty things that stomped out of bogs to devour people. The triumph of Anglo-Saxon literature-- and, arguably, English culture in general-- is the sheer, willful courageousness with which the characters met these demons. Take a look at the rest of English history and you’ll hear that determined Anglo-Saxon echo in everything from the defeat of the Spanish armada to the Battle of Britain. The decadent doubt and perverse temptations of Gaiman and Avery’s adaptation are more a product of the upper west side of Manhattan than of East Anglia. The original Beowulf has its own tragic subtleties, too-- like the implied, imminent doom of the Geat tribe after Beowulf’s death -- but Gaiman and Avery apparently didn’t think these were as worthwhile as showing us soft-core cartoon porn.

I’d like to say something nice about Beowulf before I close, but I’m no miracle worker. In all fairness, I could go see the movie again and be a little more charitable… but, tough luck for me, my calendar’s booked. Gwen Stefani and her horny gorilla are in town.




Last Updated: Jun 26, 2018 - 9:28

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