From the original Beowulf book to the PDF, and finally to the 2008 CGI Beowulf movie, there are enormous differences that are fairly easy to pinpoint. With all of these differences in mind, it is easy to see a stark evolution of the story of Beowulf.
In the 24 page PDF, we are told of a simple story of a great warrior named Beowulf. He arrives in Dane’s land attempting to test his skills against the terrible Grendel who has been reigning terror over the Danes for 12 long years. The story follows a simple storyline with not a lot of plot twists to interfere with Beowulf’s journey. He kills Grendel and defeats his mother after she is anguished from the loss of her son. After being King of the Geats for 50 years, he fights another dragon and succumbs to his wounds after defeating the monster with the help of a young man named Wiglaf. Pretty simple right?
It’s not until after you read the PDF and watch the movie that you realize quite how many differences there are between the two versions. In context, if the movie had been exactly like the book, it would be incredibly boring, so in order to add intrigue to the story, the movie changes basically everything around.
At the beginning of the movie, a golden dragon horn is introduced. We are also introduced to Hrothgar (who is not at all as honorable as the PDF makes him out to be) and his wife, who isn’t in the PDF at all. It is set up with some clear differences already such as the fact that the entire mead hall is drunk, rather than just praying, and lots of mischievous things are happening all the time. As the story follows, Grendel attacks (not while the people are sleeping like in the PDF but during the drunken roar of the party in the mead hall) and continues to attack for quite some time after that fateful night. Beowulf is then introduced along with Wiglaf who is already mighty good friends with Beowulf, and their journey begins.
After Beowulf fights and defeats Grendel, they realize they have a bigger problem on their hands. Grendel’s Mother (portrayed, not a monster, but a gorgeous Angelina Jolie) is again anguished by the loss of her son and attacks Beowulf’s men in their sleep. Beowulf goes to defeat her but soon realizes that he’s dealing with Angelina Jolie, and of course, you’re just not going to kill Angelina. So instead, he makes a deal with her. He leaves the dragon horn thingy with her, and in return, he becomes king of the land with all the treasure he needs.
The audience soon finds out after this that Hrothgar is Grendel’s father (they just so happily “forgot” to mention in the PDF) and after being relieved of his worry and misery of Angelina Jolie’s torture, and Grendel’s insufferable daddy issues, promptly throws himself out the window and leaves his entire fortune and throne to Beowulf (as well as Hrothgar’s wife that Beowulf happens to be mystified by).
Again, 50 years pass, and instead of being king of the geats for all that time, Beowulf has been king of the Danes. A dragon does return to terrorize the land, but unlike in the PDF, the dragon is Beowulf’s son, kin of both Angelina and Beowulf. PLOT TWIST!
Beowulf kills his son, with not much help from Wiglaf, and goes through many gruesome trials (such as cutting ligaments from his arm so he can reach into the throat of his son and tear out his heart). Soon thereafter, Beowulf dies and leaves his fortune to Wiglaf, who then see’s Angelina floating in the water, which the audience assumes that the cycle of royalty/dragon horn/monster children is continued.
While the plot is incredibly different in both stories, both are fitting towards the purpose they contain. The PDF was mainly an oral tale, passed down until finally it was written down, and the movie is, of course, the Hollywood version of it. Neither are bad, but they are in fact incredibly different.