Over on ANSAX-net (the Anglo-Saxonist's listserv) and in a few other places, there has been discussion about the trailer for the upcoming Beowulf movie.
One of the big questions that keeps popping up is why the movie has to take such liberties with the story. There's been some fairly predictable (at least to me, if only because of the eternal arguments about the Peter Jackson The Lord of the Rings films) debate about how the adaptation is inferior to the original versus the idea that stories need to be updated to fit the times in which they are performed.
I go two ways on this. On the one hand, no one is giving me a hundred million dollars or so to make a Hollywood movie (although if any readers want to do this, don't think I'm ruling it out), and so, because there is a lot of money for a lot of people on the line, I'm inclined to give the benefit of the doubt to people who think they know what their audience wants. On the other hand, I think that Hollywood films (which are, remember, made by committee no matter whose name is on the box-top) tend to think that the lowest common denominator is lower than it has to be. My take (and remember, I haven't had a chance to lose a few million on an unsuccessful movie) is that when Hollywood takes risks and respects the audience, things work out for the better. One of the biggests risks in both Beowulf and The Lord of the Rings would be sticking very closely to the story, but such a risk can pay off commerically. For example, the Narnia movie deviated very little from the original text and was very commercially successful.
The big question, though, is: why make a Beowulf movie and then not follow the story? As Johnny Cochrane said on South Park, "It does not makes sense." Want to make a film with Angelina Jolie as a naked snake-woman, and a character beating beating a monster with its own severed arm (I think every time he whacks Grendel with the arm he should say "Why are you hitting yourself? Huh? Why are you hitting yourself?" -- now you can tell I have a younger brother), and dragon rodeo? Why not just make a move with those things in it? But no, you add those things and you still call it Beowulf.
The only answer that makes sense to me is that the film-makers and their financial and marketing people thought that the Beowulf
That means that to some degree all of our work over the past twenty years or so has succeeded. Many, many of us have been preaching and teaching the joys of Beowulf, and we've helped bring about a cultural change. That's a very big deal, and a very good thing for Beowulf studies, Anglo-Saxon and medieval literature in general. Dudes, we're part of a franchise.
[now, in my next post, I try to tie this in to my recent experience in my Anglo-Saxon class, where students were extremely interested in the Indo-European language tree, ablaut and umlaut. Really. They were. I'm not making it up.]