It took twice through, but I’m finally convinced; Beowulf is a wonderful film. There is plenty to recommend it, even if it had stuck to the original plot line.
Nearly every frame is beautiful and riveting. The visuals seemed to have borrowed from the field of gaming, so you can never quite tell if what you are looking at is real or animated. The music is a kick. Beowulf is himself thrilling to watch, as are the monsters, dragons, swords, and, above all, the time: it is set in the 6th century Scandinavia. The viewer is convinced that it must have been something like this.
Having read the newest translation several years ago, by Seamus Heany, I was not prepared for how the film would change the plot, which is rather linear and boring in the original, but, hey, it’s the 10th century, so who can complain? A monster vexes a town. Beowulf arrives and kills it, kills the monster’s mother, and becomes king and then does other amazing things before he dies a heroes death.
In the new film version, this is a remarkable undercurrent. Hrothgar, the king that comes before, has a hidden secret and it deals with the monster’s mother. It seems that Grendel is his offspring, and the witch, played by Angelina Jolie, is irresistible to him, and, later, to Beowulf. Beowulf kills Grendel and then sets out for the mother, who seduces him into given her yet another offspring that will return to torment the community many years later. Beowulf lies, however. He had given in to her, but only tells everyone that he killed her.
His secret is known only to a few: his wife and his closest associate. Both decide not to pass it on. He is a hero and generations will sing his praises. So declare these court historians, and so it was to be, in the official version. And so the official version has stood.