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Beowulf on Demand

Category: Beowulf & Grendel News
Article Date: April 30, 2006 | Publication: New York Times | Author: CELIA McGEE
Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/30/arts/music/30mcgee.html

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It's amazing what a few centuries and a hit translation can do for an Old English saga. That would be Beowulf, the Anglo-Saxon myth about a noble young warrior battling Grendel the man-eater. The epic, passed along by bards and finally written down in the 11th century, experienced a late-20th-century resurgence when a version by the poet Seamus Heaney became a best seller. Already this year, the tale has been performed as a rock opera at the Irish Repertory Theater, and by the end of 2007, it will have been retold at least five more times in forms the early declaimers would hardly recognize. The next Beowulfs bringing Grendel to heel include these:BIG-BUDGET BEOWULF

"Beowulf," a $70 million animated feature in production for a November 2007 release.

Key Names: The director Robert Zemeckis, the fantasy author Neil Gaiman and, among the voices, Angelina Jolie.

Resemblance: Mixed. Sticks close to the original plot but uses 21st-century effects.

Why Now: Hollywood needs at least one new monster a season, and Grendel may be the Kong of 2007.

INDIE BEOWULF

"Beowulf: Prince of the Geats," in production for a March 2007 release.

Key Names: Scott Wegener directs a cast of unknowns.

Resemblance: Little. This Beowulf is the son of an African explorer, and his heroism is intertwined with the rather modern concept of the quest for peace within oneself.

Why Now: No particular reason except, Mr. Wegener said, his love of the story and his desire to raise money with it (for the American Cancer Society).

ICELANDIC BEOWULF

"Beowulf & Grendel," released in Iceland last year and awaiting its American premiere.

Key Names: Gerard Butler of "The Phantom of the Opera" and Sarah Polley of "Don't Come Knocking." Directed by Sturla Gunnarsson, who is from Iceland.

Resemblance: Familial. The Scandinavian setting echoes the tale's Norse roots.

Why Now: Another saga evoking the Middle Ages, "The Lord of the Rings," was a hit, and Mr. Butler was thought to be a potential draw after "Phantom." That may be why the film hasn't reached here yet.

AVANT-GARDE BEOWULF

"Grendel, the Transcendence of the Great Big Bad," an opera and one of two Beowulf-inspired entries in this summer's Lincoln Center Festival.

Key Names: Elliot Goldenthal composed; the director Julie Taymor and the poet J. D. McClatchy wrote the libretto. Stars include the mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves and the dancer Desmond Richardson (as Beowulf).

Resemblance: Middling. A comic version told from Grendel's point of view.

Why Now: In a time of global strife, it's a plea to remember the human in the alien. And the festival wanted to mark its 10th anniversary by commissioning a work.

EARLY-MUSIC BEOWULF

"Beowulf," the other festival offering.

Key Name: The early-music musician Benjamin Bagby, who sings the epic while playing a period harp.

Resemblance: High. Close your eyes and you're back in the Middle Ages.

Why Now: Early music is in vogue, for one. Mr. Bagby also said that at the moment, the tale's notion of blood vengeance might hold a certain appeal. How positively Old English. CELIA McGEE

 


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