Hungry Like the Beowulf
September 08, 2005
Alan Sullivan -- who has a respectably deep knowledge of the material, having collaborated on a translation -- takes note of Robert Zemeckis' upcoming Big Screen Hollywood Treatment of Beowulf.
More details are to be had in this report [4th item, down below Jack Kerouac] at The Book Standard News, which tells us
- that Zemeckis will be using the computerized motion-capture technique he previously deployed to dubious effect ["at best disconcerting, and at worst, a wee bit horrifying," sez CNN] in The Polar Express and
- that Angelina Jolie has been cast as "the beautiful queen of darkness," a character I don't rightly recall as appearing anywhere in the poem.
(I'm disappointed that Ms. Jolie won't be playing Grendel's mom. She's certainly scary enough.)
Hugo Award winner (for American Gods) Neil Gaiman is writing the screenplay, which suggests that it is likely to be interesting but also that resemblances to the original material will be strictly coincidental.
Los Angeles will be seeing a different sort of Beowulf next summer when the Los Angeles Opera offers the world premiere of Grendel, adapted from John Gardner's novel with a score by Elliot Goldenthal and a libretto co-written by poet J.D. McClatchy and director Julie Taymor. Goldenthal and Taymor are long-time collaborators (Goldenthal won an Academy Award for his score to Taymor's film Frida and, oh yes, they married in 2002 after some 20 years together) and the Grendel project has been developing for at least 15 years.
An intriguing detail: in the cast for this production Beowulf himself is not listed as a character. He appears relatively late in Gardner's novel, depicted as a taciturn, humorless, Terminator-like fighting machine, and does the predestined job of killing Grendel after ambushing him in the meadhall; he even has a few lines of dialogue. But he does not appear, at least as a singing part, in the opera. Given that this is a Taymor production, I have to suspect that Beowulf will be portrayed by a puppet. In a 1989 article referencing Grendel, which doesn't necessarily reflect what the actual production will look like more than a decade later, Taymor is quoted as groaning, "It's a hundred and fifty to 200 puppets. Not little things, either, but big things." Perhaps Beowulf is one of the big things.
Dragons, such as Fafnir in the Ring and the scaly creature chasing Tamino at the opening of Magic Flute, are often portrayed by puppets and similar effects in operas. The Dragon in Grendel -- a central figure in the novel, this dragon may or may not be the same one as Beowulf slays and is slain by later in the poem -- is a mezzo-soprano, to be portrayed by the splendid Denyce Graves.
After premiering in Los Angeles in June, the production will be heading to Lincoln Center in late 2006.
UPDATE [1744 PDT]: Hmm. I'm not the only one with Beowulf on my mind lately: Here's a late-August item on the topic from escapegrace.
Geat Down! Geat Funky!
Can the X-rated version of Canterbury "Tails" be far "behind"? (I would leave the quotes off, as I know the Fool would get it, but for the less wickedly humored...")
Posted by: Cowtown Pattie | September 08, 2005 at 08:22 PM
Page 1 of the Grendel score contains a fascinatingly vivid description of an early morning tryst between a Ram and a Stump. We have yet to see anything beyond page 10... should I be concerned that music rehearsals start on April 1st??
Posted by: Dizzy Diva | September 09, 2005 at 01:20 AM
Picking up on your mention of one of my favorite graphic and fantasy novelists Neil Gaiman, he has a new novel coming out, Anansi Boys. Looks like he is continuing the themes he began in American Gods and Sandman.
Posted by: Rick | September 09, 2005 at 07:09 AM
See what Gaiman said at
Posted by: eric | September 09, 2005 at 10:55 AM
Speaking of getting down and beo-canines, click here for a smile from cartoonist John Callahan.
Posted by: David Giacalone | September 09, 2005 at 01:07 PM
Good gravy, everyone! I had no idea that this would prove to be such a popular post for comments. Turn my back for a few hours for a court appearance in San Diego and all manner of free expression gets loose around here!
So, time for me to catch up:
1) The dear Diva above is, if you hadn't guessed, a sister o' mine and also in a position to know what's what with L.A. Opera because she is associated there in a professional and musical capacity.
2) Sister, dear: I can't vouch for the stump, but the Ram is definitely in Gardner's book. If I recall right, that Ram is the last thing poor ol' Grendel sees as he lays dying on the final page. His closing line is addressed to the Ram, in fact: "Poor Grendel's had an accident. So may you all."
3) Thanks to Rick and to eric for the Gaiman links, the latter of which not only clarifies that Angelina Jolie is scary enough to be Grendel's mother but also lends further credence to various rightwing weblogs' persistent refrain that you Just Can't Trust the Press.
4) Speaking of Neil Gaiman and puppets, there is a disturbing little clip to be had over here from Gaiman's forthcoming film [with his frequent illustrator Dave McKean and the clever folk at the Jim Henson Creature Shop], MirrorMask involving floppy, faceless, puppet robots crooning the Carpenters' "Close to You" while giving the heroine a sort of Goth makeover. Or something.
5) And thanks to Pattie for low humor and David for dog cartoons, and to everyone else for just dropping by.
Posted by: George Wallace | September 09, 2005 at 02:51 PM
"Grendel" was pretty good, and I liked the first part of "American Gods" by Gaiman, but felt it trailed away poorly. Has he done other screenplay work?
Posted by: Fred Schoeneman | October 02, 2005 at 08:28 PM