So, thanks to links forwarded by friends and postings on the Mythsoc list, I'm beginning to hear a good deal about the forthcoming BEOWULF movie, and almost all of it fills me with foreboding.
I'd had hopes for this one, since (a) BEOWULF is a good story that should translate well to film and (b) Neil Gaiman is the scriptwriter, and I have a huge respect for his encyclopedic grasp of mythology, fantasy, and folklore, as reflected particularly in THE BOOKS OF MAGIC and SANDMAN and his short stories; he's been less successful, to my taste, at drawing from it effectively in his novels so far.
So what are we to make of his insistence, over the director's objections, that Beowulf strip buck-naked before wrestling Grendel, on the grounds that "It's in the [original] poem"? Or his regret that they had to leave out all the profanity from the dialogue (again, on the claim that the original was full of swearing) because of the need for a PG-13 rating? Or the inclusion in the movie of a scene of Grendel's mother crooning "Give . . . Me . . . Son!" as she tries to seduce the hero, so she can get pregnant with another Grendel to "reestablish her dominion over the kingdom"? And what's with the idea that old King Hrothgar is "corrupt", when the poem goes to lengths to establish that he is an honorable old man, admired far and wide for his wisdom?
I can think of various possible explanations, none appealing.
(1) Gaiman never really said this; the reporters who quote him made it up. [Unlikely]
(2) Gaiman is joking, pulling the reporters' legs. [Also unlikely]
(3) Gaiman doesn't know the original Old English poem very well and has simply been working from a synopsis, so he doesn't know how flagrantly these changes diverge from the actual work. [Highly likely if it was any Hollywood screenwriter but Gaiman, unlikely with Gaiman]
(4) Gaiman has written and re-written the screenplay so many times that by now he's completely forgotten what's in the original and what's Gaiman. [Plausible?]
(5) Gaiman has done a complete re-imagining to the story, a la his radical takes on various fairy tales in short stories, and lacks the courage to say so. [Possible, but then why wouldn't he boast of his contribution? It's not like Hollywood places any value on fidelity to the story being adapted.]
None of these is really satisfactory, and once the film is out it may turn out not to be as extremely bad as all the advance hints indicate. But if it is, it'll be a sad day for Gaiman fans everywhere.
And here I thought this film would be BETTER than the disaster that was BEOWULF & GRENDEL, or THE THIRTEENTH WARRIOR for that matter.