Saturday, August 18, 2007

Has Gaiman Jumped the Shark?

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.


chris. said...

I'm curious why you find it unlikely that the press is making up (or, at the very least, wildly distorting) things attributed to Gaiman. One of the reasons i dropped out of journalism school was a prof's insistence that it was perfectly okay to re-arrange and "edit" things inside quotation marks. I also know that no less an insitution than the New York Times complately fabricated an entire anecdote in an article about the friend of a friend.

Which is not to say that everyone in the press corp is evil and corrupt, but i also don't always trust the words that are even inside quotation marks. Also, Gaiman has commented on his blog other instances where members of the press have completely misrepresented (or nigh made up) things he's said about "Stardust."

Unknown said...

I've also got to agree with Chris here, John--I suspect the reporter(s) are taking one comment or something and extrapolating. I've seen a number of posts on Gaiman's blog where he takes an article with alleged quotes he's said, noted what he actually said, and wondered how it changed before hitting print.

[shrug] Hard to know, really, and I'll reserve judgement on the film until I see it. I have to say that STARDUST was a lot of fun, and it changed A LOT from the book, but still a very good time for you and the wife.

I'm also perhaps a tetch more tolerant of changes to the source material on Beowulf simply because the material does need to be relateable to a modern audience if it wants to actually have an audience.

This beggars the question--Did you like the 13th Warrior? (Antonio Banderas vehicle that purported to be linked to the Beowulf story loosely)

Your presence was missed at GenCon 07, by the by...