A Monster in the Nation's Attic and Bats in a Screenwriter's Belfry
March 27, 2006
When last we encountered the monster Grendel and his nemesis Beowulf here in the forest, they were about to be brought to life on screen -- in the Robert Zemeckis-directed computer-generated Beowulf, slated for release in 2007 -- and on the Los Angeles stage -- in an Elliot Goldenthal opera, Grendel, adapted from John Gardner's novel, also Grendel -- directed by Julie Taymor and set to premiere two months from today on May 27.
Will either new work be true to its source? The most recent reports on the two productions leave me with more optimism over the opera than I can muster for the film.
- The opera turns up in an unexpected quarter, as it is the topic of an article in the current Smithsonian Magazine. [Grendel and Beowulf are not American treasures, but an argument can be made that Taymor and John Gardner qualify.]
- The opera is further discussed in this AP article highlighting its post-Los Angeles run as part of this year's Lincoln Center Festival:
'Their baby is a monster,' tenor Placido Domingo joked about 'Grendel,' a new opera composed by Oscar winner Elliot Goldenthal and directed by Tony winner Julie Taymor. The story centers on a passionate thinker trapped in a beast's body.
The Los Angeles Opera, with Domingo as its general director, co-commissioned the work with the Lincoln Center Festival. 'Grendel,' starring mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves, is a dark-comic retelling of the legend of Beowulf based on the 1971 John Gardner novel. After its Los Angeles premiere on May 27, it will come to Lincoln Center on July 11.
'In today's world, it's more relevant than ever,' said Taymor. 'It's about how do we look at the world from the outsider's point of view, from the monster's point of view.'
- The Zemeckis film, meanwhile, was the subject of a "fan-boy scoop"-type article in early February at Harry Knowles' Ain't It Cool News. Neil Gaiman's and Roger Avary's screenplay appears to be taking some seriously dubious liberties with its source material. The skepticism I have previously harbored over the notion of Grendel's horrible mum being portrayed by Angelina Jolie -- contrary to my earlier post, Jolie's "beautiful queen of darkness" and Grendel's mater horribilis prove to be the same character -- is only compounded by this little tidbit, which renders me well nigh speechless:
According to Avary, he and Neil Gaiman went to the original epic poem and did as literal a translation as possible, with the only liberties filling in holes in the story, either gaps in time or something left unexplained.
In this instance, they realized [sic] that Grendel was the son of the demon [Jolie] and The King [Anthony Hopkins' Hrothgar], which would be the reason he's tormenting his father, as well as dragging living men off to his mother.
O tempore, o mores, oh dear dear dear...