'Beowulf' Goes to Hollywood

Article excerpt

Byline: Scott Galupo, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

As most mainstream moviegoers are aware, the hottest movie franchises these days are those that derive from popular source material. They do consistently well because their audiences are, to a large extent, pre-sold.

Think comic books, and not just the ones that feature superheroes, such as Spider-Man and The X-Men. There are graphic novels, too, like 2005's "Sin City," which grossed a healthy $159 million worldwide, and last year's unexpected hit "300," which dramatized the 480 B.C. Battle of Thermopylae. (Both were based on graphic novels by Frank Miller.)

And of course, there's the legion of Harry Potter readers and Tolkien geeks who devoured the Potter movies and Peter Jackson's astonishingly popular "Lord of the Rings" trilogy.

Then there's "Beowulf" - a more than 1,000-year-old Anglo-Saxon epic poem written in Old English, a teeth-pulling form of the language that's even more difficult than Shakespeare for modern readers to access.

The poem, about a Scandinavian pagan warrior-prince who battles mythical monsters, is synonymous with the drudgery of ancient literature and no doubt elicits impatient groans from high-school students and undergraduates across the English-speaking world.

How is it that this beast has now been adapted into a big-budget Hollywood action picture, which opens today?

Does "Beowulf" have even a prayer of finding an audience?

"Yes, it does, given the compelling package the story is wrapped in," says Media by Numbers box-office guru Paul Dergarabedian. "The film should transcend the inherent liabilities of an ancient story. This is not your father's 'Beowulf.' "

This latest adaptation - 2005's "Beowulf and Grendel" was a hit in Canada - is directed by A-lister Robert Zemeckis and boasts big-name stars such as Angelina Jolie and Anthony Hopkins. It makes use of the latest in eye-popping digital animation technology, which has grown considerably more sophisticated since Mr. Zemeckis employed it in 2004's "The Polar Express."

Still, as a recent front-page story in USA Today noted, such technology "has never been used on this scale or in a movie aimed at mature moviegoers."

Will "Beowulf" prove a gripping enough story to overcome its lack of talking animals or familiar superheroes?

Michael Wenthe thinks so, and not only because he's a medieval literature professor at American University.

He points to the surprising reception of the 1999 translation of "Beowulf" by Nobel Prize-winning Irish writer Seamus Heaney. …