Year Released: 2007
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Starring: Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins, Brendan Gleeson, Angelina Jolie, Robin Wright Penn, John Malkovich, Crispin Glover •
(PG-13, 113 min.)
"Fame is the perfume of heroic deeds." Socrates
It's all sweet eye candy – a hideous monster consumed with bloodlust, a golden dragon sparkling in the sun, a heroic warrior with rippling flesh and courageous heart. And did I mention Angelina Jolie clothed only in dripping gold at the crux of it all?
It appears that Hollywood hasn’t quite forgotten what it takes to fill the theaters. While their treatment of the Beowulf legend isn’t what you might call epic, it is bigger than life, especially if you get to see the 3-D version, where even the credits come bursting off the screen, not to mention the sword thrusts and monster’s drool. The film has also employed motion captured animation at a level much improved since Zemeckis’s earlier Polar Express. So someone short and stocky like Ray Winstone gets the six and a half foot frame and washboard abs he has always dreamed of for his rendition of the hero Beowulf.
In the tradition of full disclosure here, I must admit to a not so secret past as a high school English teacher who shepherded her seniors through the Anglo Saxon epic poem more times that I can remember. I have always thought the action filled narrative would translate well to film, but I am not sure whether I envy or sympathize with my colleagues still in the classroom. Sure, it’s pretty easy to get hormone-addled adolescents to the film, but how can the real poem fare in the comparison. I mean, the monster Grendel’s mother is just a sea hag in the poem, not the lovely seductress played by Jolie.
For the main part, though, the film is true to the eighth century Anglo Saxon epic tracing back to events that possibly occurred in what is now Denmark and Sweden several centuries earlier. Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins), the Danish king, has rewarded his brave warriors with Herot, a huge banquet hall where they can feast and celebrate their many victories with fellowship and kingly gifts of gold, as well as substantial quaffs of mead, a fermented honey drink almost as powerful and golden as the king himself.
And wouldn’t you know it, the neighbors don’t like all this rowdy celebration, or at least one of them doesn’t, a huge and particularly unpleasant creature that looks a little like Gollum on steroids with a touch of leprosy thrown in. Grendel (Crispin Glover), as he’s called, is also prone to the very nasty dripping gore/drool that plagued the Alien creatures, and in addition to snarfing down various loyal Danes, he has the audacity to ooze considerable amounts of it upon the lovely Queen Wealthow (Robin Wright Penn).
All this mayhem causes poor Hrothgar to close down the party and Herot remains deserted until the uber confident Beowulf storms ashore to their rescue, defeating Grendel unarmed (as well as completely naked), and then later dealing with his avenging mother, in addition to a spectacular golden dragon as magnificent as it is malignant.
Roger Avary and Neil Gaiman have deconstructed certain key elements of the legend, however. In the elegiac poem heroism and glory are transitory, but in the film, they are largely an illusion, a fictional sugar coating over the very real flaws of king and kingmakers. Hrothgar, the dignified and good king becomes a drunken dissolute who has himself largely to blame for Grendel’s marauding. Beowulf is interested in glory, but he is not the self-serving fame monger and womanizer portrayed in the film. And instead of the descendent of Cain, as Grendel is in the epic poem, his lineage is, shall we say, much closer to home in the film.
But that being said, the epic heroes of the literary Beowulf are rather one dimensional, and perhaps Hollywood is justified in sexing up the plot. And let’s face it, this was a largely a pagan poem handed down orally for centuries before it was given an Old Testament spin in Britain, so this isn’t the first time someone has tinkered with it.
And there is a somewhat clever insinuation about the tinkering, an implication that this, the film version, with all its flawed heroes is the reality and that the poem is a PR masterpiece. Similar was the ingenious premise of The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, a Freudian reinterpretation of Sherlock Holmes, where his Nemesis Dr. Moriarty is merely the figment of a the detective’s “coked” up imagination.
And despite its comic book simplicity, its video game like action, Beowulf does cause us to think. Are we better off in a world where image is closely protected -- where the crippled FDR never appeared in his wheel chair and JFK’s womanizing was an open secret the press refused to share – or in the current take no prisoners journalism with the peccadilloes of our Presidents on full display to ourselves and the world?
The fact that several days after viewing it, I cannot answer this question, speaks to a certain depth in Beowulf, wouldn’t you say?
My first thought was to present you a fast and easy way to make mead, that honey ale that inspired Hrothgar’s Mead Hall. But, alas, none are fast or easy, so I had to settle for this Anglo Saxon Quail and Bacon dish. Not too bad, what with you hunters bagging the beautiful birds this fall.
And this might even be an alternative to the traditional Thanksgiving turkey. At any rate, I don’t suggest falling off into a drunken mead-induced slumber afterward. You never know where Grendel or his very persistent mother may be lurking.
Anglo-Saxon Quail and Bacon
- 6 thick slices of fatty bacon, chopped
- 3 cloves of garlic, chopped
- 4 quail
- 1/2 lb. mushrooms (any kind), chopped
- 1 cup walnuts or hazelnuts, chopped
- 1 1/2 cups (10 oz) English ale
- 3/4 cup water
- 3 bay leaves
- salt and pepper to taste
- 4 slices coarse brown bread
Fry the bacon and garlic on its own fat in a large pot. Add quail and brown on all sides. Add mushrooms and nuts, cook for a couple of minutes. Add ale, water and bay leaves. Add salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, decrease the temperature and simmer covered for 2 to 2 1/2 hours until the birds are fully cooked and the meat is falling of the bones.
Place the birds on the bread slices, cover with the rest of the stew. Serve.
Recipe Source: Margarita’s International Recipes