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Beowulf Expert Says Hollywood Makeover
May Do Justice To Epic Poem

November 12, 2007
Jenny Price, 608-262-8296 price3@wisc.edu

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  MADISON - The epic poem "Beowulf" has all the elements for a Hollywood film: action, monsters and classic battles of good vs. evil. But it also features a "monastic" hero with little sex appeal whose story is told in Old English, a combination that wouldn't exactly fill seats with movie fans.

Enter Angelina Jolie - starring as the demon Grendel's mother - in the form of a semi-animated, gold-painted seductive lizard, add a more swashbuckling Beowulf with six-pack abs, top it off with a screenplay written by contemporary author Neil Gaiman, and you have the movie from director Robert Zemeckis that opens in theaters on Friday, Nov. 16.

Beowulf scholar John D. Niles, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of English, says those changes have "sexed up" the story to help filmmakers create their vision. But Niles also has high hopes for the movie adaptation - he believes using a mixture of animation and live action, as Zemeckis has done, is the best way to do justice on screen to the scary and larger-than-life characters found in Beowulf.

The movie's release represents the zenith of what Niles calls a "Beowulf boom," including a recent opera and the release this month of "Beowulf: An Illustrated Edition," featuring a celebrated translation accompanied by more than 120 images Niles uncovered, such as sixth-century helmets and weapons, to illuminate the poem for readers.

The book provides a window on what life was like in Europe in the time of Beowulf through beautiful photographs of artifacts, as well as drawings and woodcuts that Niles tracked down and selected. Gaiman, who adapted the poem for the movie, raves that the illustrated edition "is the next best thing to being at the mead hall at Heorot, watching the action."

For more information, contact -
John D Niles, 608-265-9836 or 608-238-7272 jdniles@wisc.edu


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