“She began to wail, jealousies scream…”

Everyone is done talking about the recent Beowulf movie. I thought I was done with it, too, until I saw this comment from Dave Itzkoff at the New York Times blog “Paper Cuts”:

One of my favorite tropes in “Cloverfield,” the new J.J. Abrams-produced monster-destroys-Manhattan movie that made one zillion dollars (give or take) at the box-office last weekend, is that the camera rarely lingers on the giant beastie long enough for audiences to get a clear look at it. What makes the monster so frightening is whatever we viewers project onto it – it’s whatever we think it might be.

If I were teaching this semester, I might ask my students: How come the guy behind television shows like “Alias” and “Lost” knows that this timeworn approach to the monster is guaranteed to work, but nearly every ambitious artiste who tries to adapt Beowulf feels the need to flesh out Grendel, make him visible and sympathetic, and turn him into a fathomable, manageable creature rather than an inexplicable evil half-spawned from the viewer’s own psyche?

The modern-day maker of mass entertainment understands implicitly what some too-clever adapters, with “fresh readings” and pretentious meta-narratives about storytelling, do not: that our scop had it right all along.

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