That is not to say that the story of Beowulf and his appointment with Grendel is utterly lacking in cinematic potential, but rather that the bare bones of the story is perhaps too sparse for a filmmaker without exceptional talent to exploit. Even so, Beowulf is epic in scope and is perhaps unparalleled in treating universal themes ranging from heroism to envy, so why then did a somewhat recent film take its title and story only to execute the art of filmmaking in such a way that it bears almost no resemblance to its source material
The 1999 film Beowulf differs most obviously from its source in setting. In fact, the setting seems closer to a post-apocalyptic world than a pre-modern one. Despite the fact that the movie clearly takes place in some vague and nebulous future, however, it also harkens backward in time and on occasion does seem to be a weird amalgam of the past and the future combined together to create some kind of bizarre present. For instance, King Hrothgar still lords over a medieval-type outpost, only now he has the benefit of some elements of advanced civilization at his disposal.
The opening sequence of this version of the story presents a backstory that eventually centers on the fact that Hrothgar's kingdom, if you will, is currently the focus of attacks from some kind of reptilian beast and Hrothgar is helpless to put an end to the carnage. The film succeeds in showing that the basic core of any timeless mythological tale can be transplanted forward in time with very little difficulty. The great magic of mythology is that it isn't tied to time, but is sinuous enough in story and large enough in scope to easily cross the boundaries of not only time but also ethnic and racial divides. Beowulf may belong to the Norse mythological canon, but this film proves that its themes are widespread and can easily be adapted. The idea of the evil opponent being vanquished by the lone hero and saving the village has not only been translated forward in time with a still recognizable Grendel, but an argument could also be made that it forms the backbone of the classic western Shane in which Alan Ladd plays a Beowulf-like character who arrives to kill the Grendelesque Jack Palance.
Where this film version takes a risk that pays off is in the notion that the people are suffering from a curse because of the Grendel family. This idea is very much in line with the sense of patriotism and it even offers up a stopgap one of the nagging questions that the original poems leaves unanswered: why doesn't King Hrothgar leave Hereot rather than subject his people to the torture of Grendel's unceasing appetite for human flesh for twelve long years. The movie answers this nagging conundrum with the device of a siege line that ensnares the inhabitants within their outpost as a result of this curse. At the same time, the movement of the plot into the kind of nihilistic future that has become so predictable it threatens to become a clich is not a particularly good choice. In doing this the movie sacrifices the claims to patriotism and honor that makes Beowulf so memorable. The poem depict a community in which things like honor and heritage are essential to the very idea of being a warrior and the deaths they suffer at the fate of Grendel retain the glory of giving themselves over to an enemy in the