Book vs Movie: Beowulf translation by Seamus Heaney

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In honor of National Poetry Month, I decided see if I could find a movie adapted from a poem. I found more than I expected, although some were more inspired by the poet or their collected works as opposed to actual adaptations. Then there are the epics, which in some cases seem to have spawned their own genres. I decided to go with Beowulf because I knew pretty much nothing about it. I thought this would be an interesting experience and it was. A little different, kind of odd, but interesting.

I’ll start off saying I enjoyed Beowulf. The basic story is pretty cool. Beowulf is a bad ass hero. He fights some sea monsters, kills a demon and it’s mother. He becomes a great king because of his reputation as a great warrior and the alliances he formed. With that said, it was a difficult read. It’s not exactly hard to follow, but it does need your full attention. It’s also best to read it in small chunks. There are a lot of digressions that can be draining. Usually it’s the praising of former kings and heroes, or background information, and even a minstrel’s song performed during a feast. It’s especially frustrating because its usually just before or in the middle of climatic scenes. Overall, it was an interesting read and had some engaging parts but I don’t think I would of finished it if I wasn’t doing this post.

There have been a couple different adaptations of Beowulf, I chose the major movie released in 2007. The movie uses real actors for motion capture animation, I’m not a fan of the style. Something about the way the actors look like overly edited photos irks me, however it works well for the fantasy elements. In general the movie seems a lot like the book, it uses a lot of the same elements, but it ends up telling a very different story. The poem is essentially a way to sing the praises of Beowulf and other great kings and warriors. The movie presents a story of flawed, easily corruptible men whose misfortune is a result of their own actions. It’s a modern, or some would say more realistic interpretation of the poem. However, it makes for very few, if any, likable or sympathetic characters. In fact I wonder if the point wasn’t that men are the real monsters.

If not for this post, I wouldn’t of even been interested in watching this movie. I didn’t think it was horrible, there were bad parts, but it wasn’t really good either. I’m not even going to attempt to say which I thought was better. They were both kind of meh. Plus they were very different and made for different audiences. I’d say if you’re into scholarly reading have a go at the poem. You’ll probably enjoy studying it and different interpretations. (But don’t watch the movie if it’s for a class.) If you’re looking for a fantasy action adventure, the movie is entertaining enough. While the poem has some moments, it’s not exactly thrilling reading.