Robert Zemeckis's Beowulf took a lot of hits for its perceived silliness, a verdict I could never quite sign on to. First of all, silly compared to what? Have these people seen the 1999 space opera Beowulf starring Christopher Lambert? Compared to that, Zemeckis's Beowulf is a sober meditation on the human condition. Have they seen the Gerard Butler clunker Beowulf and Grendel? Come on, guys: considering what the movies have done to this story in the past, last year's high-tech effort seems like serious business to me.
What about the source material – the ancient Old English epic poem upon which these movies purport to be based? If you've ever read it (or tried to read it), the perversions of the adaptations shouldn't surprise you. It's both begging for action movie treatment and impossible to faithfully adapt into anything resembling a compelling action movie. The story is credited with generating many of the archetypes we see in our fiction, and indeed, it's so archetypical that by modern standards, it's a skeleton; there's nothing there.
Seriously – you know how people complain about movies whose plots can be fully described in one sentence? A faithful Beowulf would take this phenomenon to new heights. A synopsis would read something like this: Beowulf beats up Grendel, Grendel's mom, and a dragon, and dies. The end. Some complained that the Zemeckis version distorted Beowulf, but I'd have liked to see their reaction to an undistorted adaptation. Trust me, it wouldn't work. There's a reason that all these screenwriters have scrambled to add elements to the story.