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Adaptation as Hyperreality: The (A)Historicism of Trauma in Robert Zemeckis’s Beowulf

  • Philipp Hinz
  • Margitta Rouse
Chapter
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Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)

Abstract

A young man makes a mistake. Tempted by an attractive woman and the promise of wealth and power, he unwittingly fathers a son. Years later, after he has become a great leader and husband to a beautiful and considerably younger wife, his legacy is threatened for lack of a legitimate heir. The issue of his unacknowledged child complicates his marriage, because his wife resents his sexual past. His adolescent “bastard” son, a social outcast unwanted by his father and shunned by society, suffers greatly, too. Seeking to attract his father’s attention, or simply to revenge himself, he regularly humiliates the old man on public occasions—but his aggressive acts fail to lessen his growing frustration with his father. Powerless and incapable of preventing such scenes, the old man finally hires a young assassin. Having completed his mission, the killer is rewarded by being installed as the old man’s heir. When the old man dies his successor inherits not only his wealth and power, but also wins the young widow’s love. But history repeats itself: The young man, too, is seduced by the murdered bastard’s excessively rich mother and fathers a son with her. Years later, when his unwanted son is old enough to haunt him, the story comes full circle.

Keywords

Motion Capture Virtual Camera Digital Cinema Digital Performance Medieval Study 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Beowulf, dir. Robert Zemeckis (US: Paramount Pictures, 2007).Google Scholar
  2. Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary, Beowulf: The Script Book, with Insights from the Authors, Their Early Concept Art, and the First and Last Drafts of the Script for the Film (New York: Harper Collins, 2007). The film was shown in several viewing formats; our analysis is based on the standard 2D version (single disc DVD).Google Scholar
  3. 2.
    Chris Jones, “From Heorot to Hollywood: Beowulf in Its Third Millennium,” in Anglo-Saxon Culture and the Modern Imagination, ed. David Clark and Nicholas Perkins (Cambridge, UK: D. S. Brewer, 2010), p. 21 [13–29].Google Scholar
  4. 3.
    Beowulf-adaptations are comprehensively listed in Hans Sauer, 205 Years of Beowulf Translations and Adaptations (1805–2010): A Bibliography (Trier: Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier, 2011).Google Scholar
  5. 4.
    John Gardner, Grendel (New York: Knopf, 1971).Google Scholar
  6. 5.
    Michael Crichton, Eaters of the Dead (New York: Ballantine, 1976).Google Scholar
  7. 6.
    The Thirteenth Warrior, dir. John McTiernan and Michael Crichton (US: Touchstone Pictures, 1999).Google Scholar
  8. 7.
    Beowulf, dir. Graham Baker (US: Miramax Pictures, 1999). For an early review noting the parallels between Baker’s and Zemeckis’s adaptationsGoogle Scholar
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    Alberto Menache, Understanding Motion Capture for Computer Animation and Video Games (San Diego, CA: Academic, 1999), p. 1.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
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    The “Production Notes” suggest that the scriptwriters as well as Zemeckis are aware of Tolkien’s seminal article “The Monsters and the Critics,” claiming that Zemeckis sees hero and poem “along similar lines” as Tolkien. It seems, however, that the perceived similarities are the result of a creative misreading of Tolkien’s essay. For the latter, see J. R. R. Tolkien, “The Monsters and the Critics,” in Interpretations of Beowulf: A Critical Anthology, ed. R. D. Fulk (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1991), pp. 14–44.Google Scholar
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  18. 27.
    Lev Manovich, The Language of New Media (Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 2002), p. 143.Google Scholar
  19. 28.
    Hyperrealistic aesthetics in digital cinema has been defined as a form of overstated realism, “in tension with the graphic limitations of drawn animation, the vestiges of plasmaticness in conventions of ‘squash and stretch,’ metamorphosis, as well as the often fantastic subject matter (talking animals, magic, fairy tales and monsters)” (Martin Lister, Jon Dovey, Seth Giddings, Iain Hamilton Grant, and Kieran Kelly, eds., New Media: A Critical Introduction [London: Routledge, 2009], p. 138).Google Scholar
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  22. 31.
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  23. 33.
    For a discussion of the tracking shot into grendel’s den as emblematic of a monstrous aesthetic seen as central to performance animation in general, see William Brown, “Beowulf: The Digital Monster Movie,” Animation—An Interdisciplinary Journal 4.2 (2009): 153–68.Google Scholar
  24. 34.
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  25. 40.
    Seamus Heaney, Beowulf. Bilingual Edition (London: Faber and Faber, 1999), p. xix. Heaney himself is undoubtedly very aware of the poem’s visual dimension when he remarks: “we can envisage it as an animated cartoon” (Heaney, Beowulf, p. xiii).Google Scholar
  26. 41.
    Enabled by the hyperillusionistic aesthetics of CgI, gold has a sexually charged presence in the film as if the filmmakers had followed Heaney’s observation by the letter. Liquid gold drips off grendel’s mother’s breasts; Beowulf slays a golden man-dragon (his son). Dying, the monster morphs into the golden shape of a naked young man. Beowulf reaches out to the man on the shore, they touch brief ly, until the young man melts away in a golden wave. For a queer reading of this scene, see David Green, Manhood in Hollywood from Bush to Bush (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2009), p. 6.Google Scholar
  27. 42.
    Laura Mulvey, Death 24x a Second: Stillness and the Moving Image (London: Reaktion, 2006), p. 9.Google Scholar
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  31. 59.
    For a more nuanced view, see Carol J. Clover, “The germanic Context of the Unferth Episode,” Speculum 55 (1980): 444–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. 64.
    According to Bildhauer, a sense of progress is communicated in the ways in which bodies are portrayed in the film, where the differences between human and animal are destabilized. Bettina Bildhauer, Filming the Middle Ages (London: Reaktion, 2011), pp. 196–98.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Andrew James Johnston, Margitta Rouse, and Philipp Hinz 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Philipp Hinz
  • Margitta Rouse

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