Read Beowulf Online

Authors: Neil Gaiman

Beowulf (17 page)

Being on the Performance Capture stage was an odd experience. No sets to speak of, only house lights. It looked a little bit like the holodeck in
Star Trek: The Next Generation
, and the actors all looked like they were in costume for
. Anthony Hopkins, the man who handed me my Oscar for
Pulp Fiction
, wandered in wearing a skin-tight Lycra bodysuit, with tiny positioning dots covering the contours of his face. The word
was written on his chest, as if anyone could forget which part he was playing. But the entire cast
wear ing the exact same Lycra bodysuits. He picked up a prop of a goblet, but even that was wire- frame so that the watching computers could see through it and capture the spacial positions of the dots in 3-D space. It was a strange way to be making a film that should be dirty and muddy—and yet, much of our script played like a chamber piece. And I could see that these veteran actors, well used to performing Shakespeare on stage, were liberated by the process. They didn't need to worry about hitting their marks or finding their light, and no interruptions occurred during a scene for cameras to be repositioned and lights adjusted. Performance Capture is closer to theater in the round—and it allows the actors, unencumbered by the mundane annoyances of production, to fall deeper into the performance.

I had once heard a story about how Z. had digitally grafted an eyebrow from one take of Jodie Foster in
onto her face in another take—because he liked qualities of both takes. I thought it was silly at the time, the indulgences of a supreme control freak—so much a control freak that he's literally reinvented the production process to allow himself to tweak every element to his exacting specifications. But as I've come to learn, Robert's imagination won't be restrained by the chaos of the universe. He's a reality bender, and a man with a highly specific vision. But most of all, he likes to play. Every day I came into the Carpinteria offices
to see the progress on the film, I would discover new technologies he had invented to advance his medium. One day, when Neil and I visited, we were presented with Z-Cam: a video camera with sensors on it so that it could be tracked in 3-D space. Using the Z-Cam we were able to playback the recorded Performance Capture data and line up shots in virtual environments. In this fashion, we were invited to throw in the occasional shot. The process wasn't invented so much so that Z. could exercise his authoritarian control, but so that group collaboration could make the movie the best it could possibly be.

Gradually, we watched the film go from wire-frame to something that looks like an early PlayStation One videogame to what Z. calls “Michelin Man” to finely rendered frames that border on eerie realism. I am proud of my involvement in this film, and of the friendships I've made—most of all with Neil. For the two of us, it has been a long and circuitous route, an epic journey.

This second script, the shooting script, represents a different director's vision—a different film than I would have made. In the end I've come to realize that Neil Gaiman has been the cohesive glue that's held both works together. His voice is the constant by which we've managed to hold our course through the choppy waters of Hollywood. And the shore we've anchored on, though it's a different land than we first set sail for, is as lush and green as the one we first held in our imagination.



as told by


Neil Gaiman & Roger Avary


Draft Dated:
June 10, 1997

Registered: WGA/w
© Copyright 1997


Hwæt! We Gar-Dena
hu oå æpelingas

in geår-dagum,
prym gefrunon,
ellen fremedon!

Listen! We have heard
In the old days,
How noble princes

of the Spear-Danes' glory
the kings of tribes--
showed great courage!


Lines 1-3
Original Author Unknown


518 A.D.



We hear a VOICE. A young soprano voice SINGING a solemn descant. Chanting and trolling in a haunting, ancient dialect.


Hwaet! We Gar-Deena in gear-dagumpeod-cyninga prym gefrunon, hu oa aepelingas ellen fremedon

Now we see a beautiful FEMININE FORM of glittering gold, shimmering with light reflected. It's all unclear, however, as if we're seeing it through an underwater dream, or perhaps a memory from which all detail has faded. The slinky form rotates in a slow dance, briefly revealing what looks like a long tail.


PULL BACK TO REVEAL that the entire image is inside the pupil of an EYE, and the feminine form is actually a reflection of fire.


The eye belongs to KING BEOWULF (50).


Bearded and grey, yet mighty and strong despite his age. His eyes burn with dark, guarded secrets. His expression is removed and somber. Wearing a fur cape and a gold crown (its engraving depicts a dragon with a sword through its heart). Beowulf sits on an elaborately carved wooden throne. Firelight dances on his face.


AN OFF CAMERA ORATOR speaks over the SINGING. The orator is WULFGAR, the king's herald. He is old and grey, in his eighty's, but his voice is strong and commanding.


Hwaet. We Gardena in geardagum, peodcyning, prym gefrunon, hu oa aepelingas ellen fremedon, Beowulf…

The King's throne sits in a raised stone alcove. A smaller throne: the Queen's throne, sits next to Beowulf. It's empty.


URSULA, seventeen and lovely, stands on the other side of King Beowulf. She fills his goblet (silver and adorned) and smiles when she catches his eye.

BLUE Rev. 2005-09-11 2.

Behind King Beowulf stand MEMBERS OF THE COURT including WIGLAF (late 50's), Beowulf's adviser and closest friend.


Beowulf, along with the court, are watching something…




A TROOP OF DWARF ACTORS putting on a play. They're accompanied by MUSICIANS playing instruments of the period. A young boy SCOP SINGS. (the source of the soprano voice). The young scop is blind, his eyes are clouded by an eerie grey film.


The HERO ACTOR, wearing only a loincloth, swings a wood, prop sword at a tall, grotesque MONSTER. The “monster”, made of shredded rags and animal skins, is articulated by two little people on stilts.


This is a performance of “Beowulf”.


Da com of more under mist-hleopum Grendel gongan, Nu ic, Beowulf…


Beowulf's mead hall is massive in size. Immense timber columns and beams are carved with totems, depicting glorious battle scenes. Giant wrought iron chandeliers hang from huge chains and the walls are covered with weapons and shields.


All of Beowulf's subjects are present. SERFS and SLAVES, OLD WOMEN and MAIDENS, KIDS and DOGS.


And in the center of the room…THANES (knights) sit at long tables surrounding a large fire-pit. Its blazing flames we saw earlier reflected in Beowulf's eye.




A WITHERED AND MUMMIFIED GIANT'S ARM with horrible web-fingers and long, spike fingernails. This rotted trophy looks more like a demon's talon than a human hand. This is, of course, the arm of Grendel, who Beowulf killed decades ago.


THE AUDIENCE GASPS as the hero actor throws down his sword and leaps onto the monster's back…


WIGLAF, who knows this story by heart, doesn't react…but sees A DARK HOODED FIGURE standing in the anteroom…

BLUE Rev. 2005-09-11 3.



A small room off the throne platform, furnished with just a single chair and table. A fireplace on one wall and a small balcony overlooking the sea.


The hooded figure, with snow still on his boots, holds something wrapped in cloth.


Wiglaf's BREATH STEAMS as he enters the cold room.

OLD WIGLAF Unferth, you're not celebrating your King's glory tonight?

UNFERTH (80) has intense black eyes and long grey braids streaming out from under his hood. In his eighties, he's frail but very wily. In deference to the Christianity that's taking over the North, he's wearing a cross.


Unferth lifts the wrapped object in his hands.

OLD UNFERTH I have something for the King.



THE HERO DWARF rips a fake arm off the “monster”. The monster hobbles off stage HOWLING in pain.


THE AUDIENCE in Beowulf's court CHEERS and lift their cups. BEOWULF applauds politely.


THE HERO DWARF victoriously raises the arm over his head and bows repeatedly.





Wiglaf and Unferth are having a hushed but vocal argument.


You'll show it to


Bollocks, Wiglaf. I'll show it first to Beowulf. The king needs to see it!

BLUE Rev. 2005-09-11 4.


The king needs to see what?

KING BEOWULF stands in the doorway of the anteroom. His 7 1/2 foot frame casts a large shadow on the two old men.


Lost and now found, a gift fit for a King.

Unferth unwraps the oilcloth…REVEALING…


A GOLDEN HORN…a cone shaped drinking goblet of ancient origin, adorned with a gilded cast DRAGON. The dragon is contorted in a way that reveals its underside. A SPARKLING RUBY is inlaid in the center of the dragon's neck.


The King looks at it. His eyes widen…stunned.


Do you recognize it?

Beowulf stares at the horn. It has a hypnotic, magical quality about it, not only does it glisten and glimmer, but seems to EMIT ITS OWN GOLDEN LIGHT.


Where did you find…this?


On the moors. My slave Cain…he found it on the barren hill…where nothing grows. I beat him for treading near such an unholy place…however…

Unferth smiles, snake-like but proud, and lifts the drinking horn closer to Beowulf…


My lord, isn't this…

WHACK!!! With an angry sweep of his arm, Beowulf knocks the horn out of Old Unferth's hands and sends it SKIDDING across the stone floor.


THE GOLDEN HORN lands next to a pair of embroidered slippers. After a beat, the horn is lifted by…


QUEEN WEALTHOW: Striking with unique purple eyes, she's heart-stoppingly beautiful despite being in the autumn of her life.

BLUE Rev. 2005-09-11 5.

Her hair, streaked with grey is wound into a long braid. She wears no gold or jewelry, only a simple pewter circlet to identify her position as Queen.


She looks at the horn…not impressed.


So, lord Beowulf, it's come back to you…after all these years.



She lifts the horn and suddenly…everything in frame, except the horn…FADES TO BLACK…


FLASHBACK: Now, the image around the horn FADES IN…REVEALING…



WEALTHOW is now THIRTY YEARS YOUNGER, still with haunting purple eyes. As a girl-queen she's happily adorned in gold and jewels. She carries the HORN across…


Everything has FLASHED BACK to the Herot of
thirty years past.
The MEAD HALL is still grand and magnificent, but less adorned and refined…we have gone back to a time when Herot was under the rule of a different King…


Following Wealthow and the horn (now brimming with mead), we pass…


A ROARING fire blazing away in a massive fire pit. Suspended over the flames by a long sword, a pig roasts happily away.


The hall is full of the KING'S SUBJECTS and his THANES all drinking mead. They are NOISY AND CHEERING and happy.


A brace of roast goose is brought out on a wood platter along with platters heaped with boar and rabbit. SLAVES carry baskets full of apples and pears to a table of ROWDY THANES as MAIDENS pour them mead from giant pitchers. The inebrious thanes fondle the maidens and give them sloppy drunken kisses. ONE WARRIOR lifts his helmet, mead is poured into it and soon he is drinking from it.


We are seeing humanity, rough-cut and rude and awash with mead.


CRACK!! The door flies open revealing…FOUR THANES carrying a large portable throne.

BLUE Rev. 2005-09-11 6.

On the throne sits HROTHGAR, as fat a king as you're ever likely to see. His rotund body is haphazardly wrapped in a bed linen. He wears the same gold crown old Beowulf wore, its engraving depicting a sword piercing a dragon's heart.


He spots Wealthow and the golden horn…


Ah, MEAD!!

(he grabs the horn from Wealthow)

Thank you my lovely Queen!!

He pours the mead into his mouth, slobbering half of it down his chin and on to his big pink belly.


Wealthow HEARS GIGGLING and looks into the anteroom…


TWO MAIDENS scamper out from behind a screen and up a staircase, covering their nakedness with bedsheets.


Angry, Wealthow turns to confront Hrothgar but…


THUD!! The throne is dropped onto the dais, nearly crushing Wealthow, and coming to rest on her dress. She pulls at it, RIPPING the cloth.


Hrothgar LAUGHS and grabs Wealthow, pulling her toward him and forcing a long, wet kiss on her lips as she beats at his chest with her fists, demanding to be put down.




Finally she breaks free and spits on him…he opens his mouth and asks for more with a LAUGH.


His thanes ROAR their approval. Hrothgar turns to them, his face red with drunken excitement, standing on his throne.



A year ago…I, Hrothgar, your King, swore that we would celebrate our victories in a new hall, mighty and beautiful. Have I not kept my oath?!

DRUNKEN CHEERS resonate from the mob of thanes.


In this hall we shall feast and tell of victories. In this hall shall the scops sing their sagas.


BLUE Rev. 2005-09-11 7.


And in this hall we shall divide the spoils of our conquests, the gold and treasure. This shall be a place of merrymaking and joy and fornication…from now until the end of time. I name this hall…Herot!

A ROAR OF CHEERS all around.


(turning to Wealthow)

Let's hand out some treasure, shall we my beauty?!

Wealthow couldn't care less.


Hrothgar lifts the lid of a chest and dunks his hand into it. He pulls some treasure out and tosses it into the crowd. Hrothgar is having a great time throwing gold, but then, he's drunk, everyone's drunk.


Now he lifts up a huge golden torque, THE CROWD CHEERS.


For Unferth, my wisest advisor, violator of virgins and boldest of brave brawlers-- where the hell are you, Unferth, you weasel-faced bastard? Unferth

UNFERTH, now thirty years younger, his lengthy braids are now jet-black. He stands with his back to us, urinating into…




A large hole in the ground at one corner of the hall (filled with piss and other floating debris). Standing next to Unferth is AESHER (40), also one of Hrothgar's advisers. Both men are urinating, and holding a conversation…



I'm telling you Aesher, we have to start taking this seriously. I'm told the believers now extend from Rome all the way north to the land of the Franks.


Well answer me this…who do you think would win a knife fight, Odin or this Christ Jesus?

Aesher LAUGHS at his own joke. Unferth shakes his head.

BLUE Rev. 2005-09-11 8.



Unferth cuts his pee short and turns.


(to himself under his breath)

What now?



Hrothgar shifts to one side in his throne and lets loose a RIP ROARING FART. Relieved, he brightens his expression and holds up the torque…


(in a genuine loving way)

Where are you?! You ungrateful lout!!

UNFERTH wanders through the crowd of thanes, tieing up his cod and mumbling under his voice. He then shifts his expression to a well practiced smile and holds his hand in the air.


(in a not-so-genuine loving way)

I'm here, my king!


Here you go--

Hrothgar puts a huge golden torque around Unferth's neck. He turns and faces the thanes. CHEERS.


WULFGAR, (the king's herald) now thirty years younger, begins SHOUTING a rousing chant…


Hrothgar Hrothgar

Hrothgar Hrothgar…

A band of warriors join in…pounding their fists and cups on the table…


Hrothgar Hrothgar…

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