The Nibelungenlied is a German epic poem that dates in written form as far back as the 13th century, from an oral tradition much older; it wrestles with the dying pagan culture, the rise of Christianity, and the ideas of heroism, nationalism, fatalism, deception, strength, and revenge. It’s so mythology-rich that Tolkien used it as inspiration for The Lord of the Rings; it’s so thematically powerful that German propaganda posters from the 1930s still depicted the great hero Siegfried as a way to rouse national pride. In an era where TV audiences are more than willing to tune in to cable miniseries, The Nibelungenlied must have cried out for a thoughtfully-written, richly-produced, well-acted, sword-swinging adaptation.
…well, at least we got swords.
“Ring Of The Nibelungs” (aka “Curse Of The Ring”, “Dark Kingdom: The Dragon King”, “Kingdom In Twilight”, “Die Nibelungen – Der Fluch Des Drachen”, “Sword Of Xanten”, and, inexplicably, “The Ring”) is a 2004 miniseries that attempts to bring this epic to life, and instead feels as though the director made a list of his favorite scenes on a pile of index cards.
Turns out, that’s correct. Fantasy has obtained top-secret materials from Uli Edel’s office, and are reposting them here for posterity, for edification, and as a warning to others.
THE RING OF THE NIBELUNGS (and some parts of the Volsunga Saga that I liked better)
By: Uli, Age 42 and a half!
Casting Notes: We should look for a dullard. The true mark of a hero is phonetic line readings. Also, hairwise – I’m thinking the Rachel.
Text: “Siegfried in his prime, in youthful days; what honors he received and how fair of body he. The most stately women held him in their love; with the zeal which was his due men trained him. But of himself what virtues he attained! Truly his father’s lands were honored, that he was found in all things of such right lordly mind.”
Casting Notes: Whatever, I owe Alicia Witt a favor. Hopefully no one will notice she’s in this.
Text: “In Burgundy there grew so noble a maid that in all the lands none fairer might there be. Kriemhild was she called; a comely woman she became, for whose sake many a knight must needs lose his life. Well worth the loving was this winsome maid. Bold knights strove for her, none bare her hate. Her peerless body was beautiful beyond degree; the courtly virtues of this maid of noble birth would have adorned many another woman too.”
Text: Then was come Brunhild, armed as though she would battle for all royal lands. Above her silken coat she wore many a bar of gold; gloriously her lovely color shone beneath the armor… He must needs be passing bold, to whom the maid would show her love.
DRAGON SKULL WOOOO
- Explain how 1500 years ago, Scandinavia was still pagan and most of Europe was Christian. Don’t mention Scandinavia by name, since it’s long and people are bored by geography. “North” is fine.
- Explain Odin, ravens, etc.
- Introduce hero! Vaguely. Let’s not give away too much.
Transition to hero: None. No money. ZOOM IN TO:
- Start in the middle of the action like they always tell you – with a siege!
- People will really root for the toddler-hero if he wanders onto a high wall in the middle of a battle. Does walking a balance beam in a firefight make the kid sound like he was previously dropped from said high wall by a negligent adult and is a little addlepated? Nope, we’re fine, it’s brave and heroic!
- Have young Siegfried drop rocks on the ladder-climbing invaders, rather than pushing over the ladders. This will set up a lietmotif where Siegfriend uses rocks, looks for rocks, picks up rocks, is killed among rocks, and is dumb as a rock.
- Big battle: quick shots to minimize budget, unclear enemies, gloss over traumatic death of father.
Hire really horrible child actor who, instead of looking sad when his mother dies while sending him to safety down the river, just looks like he was hit with a dose of Sudafed.
(Siegfried’s father is murdered on the ramparts.)
Mom: [DAD’S UNCLEAR NAME!]
(All run away.)
Is Max von Sydow busy? Check on this.
- Siegfried is rescued by a blacksmith who lives in the loneliness of the woods and took a really well-timed trip down the river.
Transition to adulthood: None. No money. SMASH CUT TO:
Don’t mention the belt the gods gave her. The audience loves surprises!
- Prophecy doesn’t count as exposition, right? Because it happens BEFORE the things? We’ll just shove some of that in there.
Transition to meeting: None. No money. SMASH CUT TO:
Siegfried and Brunihld meet each other. The Volsunga Saga says that each knew the other had been sent for the gods just for them, so it should be really epic and romantic. The Nibelungenlied has them meeting much later and not being particularly interested in each other, but that’s not sexy. You know what’s sexy? A love triangle! We’ll go with it.
Ways they can meet:
— At the magnificent fight for her hand in marriage, where they are impressed with each other’s skill.
— Sigfried awakens her from an enchanted sleep.
Establish Siegfried as Hero
Nothing has exploded for fifteen minutes. They need to meet. What to do?
- Have his foster dad beat up some people in his remote smithy. Siegfried laughs at this. Heroic!
You know what? Forget it.
She said, “Belike thou cannest more skill in all than I; yet will I teach thee; yea, and with thanks, if there be aught of my cunning that will in anywise pleasure thee, either of runes or of other matters that are the root of things; but now let us drink together, and may the Gods give to us twain a good day, that thou mayst win good help and fame from my wisdom, and that thou mayst hereafter mind thee of that which we twain speak together.”
Doesn’t a comet crater have the kind of heat that turns sand into glass?
Then again, sex next to a comet crater is really epic…
Do a closeup of a raven here. It’ll totally pay off.
- The next morning she’s gone. Have him take the meteor rock with him!
Transition to the villain: None. No money. SMASH CUT TO:
Maybe then they won’t notice she’s played by Alicia Witt? Follow up on this after test screenings.
- Meet Kriemhild when she releases a pigeon that’s eaten by a falcon – shout-out to the classicists who actually read about Kriemhild’s dream!
- Establish love triangle with Siegfried by having him bitchslap her beloved younger brother.
- Heroic! Sexy!
Make sure younger brother’s weave is hideous; then make sure his name is pronounced so it rhymes with Weaselhair. This will make Genevieve helpless with laughter every time someone calls him.
THIS IS VITAL
Siegfried already pledged eternal troth to Brunhild in the comet crater. Do cosmic-marriage rules apply? Check on this.
- Have Siegfried ogle Kriemhild, tossing his stiff wig out of his eyes in order to stare.
- The knights all ride off to battle the dragon, including KING GUNTHER and the wily HAGEN.
- Did we even mention there was a dragon? Uh, the comet woke it up!
Casting Note: Should be creepy and off-putting. Call Julian Sands.
Casting Note: should be doughy
DO NOT SHOW.
- The knights get PWNED by the dragon.
- Siegfried forges a sword from the meteor rock.
Transition to the dragon: we’ll spend five bucks on horse footage.
OH MY GOD HE TOTALLY KILLS THE SHIT OUT OF THIS DRAGON. WOO!
Should there be laurel leaves falling from the ceiling of an enormous cavern? Investigate.
- As is standard in Scandinavian hero-becoming, he needs to bathe in the blood that renders him impervious to weapons except for that big laurel leaf on his back that means he’s still vulnerable.
- He finds the dragon’s vast wealth, which is guarded by ghostly kings. The following conversation ensues:
Siegfried: Oh my God, SCORE.
Ghostly Kings: This treasure is cursed! Leave it alone or you are doomed to die.
Siegfried: This ring is ferocious!
Ghostly Kings: Yeah, and CURSED.
Ghostly Kings: Look, this is for your own good; don’t take our stuff. It’s CURSED.
Siegfried: Man, this ring is really shiny! I’ll send someone else for the rest.
Ghostly Kings: …dullard.
Then he fights Wizard Crazypants and scores the obligatory magic item in the form of a chain-mail helmet that looks like a sex toy; after which he will insult the Wizard into fleeing. The Ghost Kings show up again.
Ghostly Kings: …CURSED.
Siegfried: Sounds good! Bye!
VIII. LOVE STORY
Hagen convinces Kriemhild to use a pagan magic potion to wipe Siegfried’s mind of his love for Brunhild. Then, Kriemhild is totally in there. Aw yeah.
TEXT: …huh, this isn’t in the text! So let’s not even bother writing dialogue. Julian Sands will do what he does best: be creepy as shit.
Add potion to one cup of wine, stir, deliver to Siegfried, who will drink it while commenting several times on how it tastes funny, but will consume all of it anyway. (Thank goodness he’s a dullard.)
Hagen shoots Brunhild’s raven.
SMASH CUT TO:
PAYOFF! AW YEAH.
Brunhild: (looks out window) What has become of my raven?
Transition to next big plot point: none. No money. The raven cost too much. SMASH CUT TO:
Gunther is horny.
So King Guther is all, “Hey, I brought some people including this guy who’s going to use his magic helmet to look like me,” and Brunhild is all, “Oh my God, Siegfried, how I’ve dreamed of you!” and Siegfried is like, “What?” and Brunhild is all, “Why are you pretending not to know me?” and Siegfried is like, “What?” and Gunther’s like, “Uh, I’d like to marry you, maybe?” and Brunhild is like, “Why won’t you acknowledge me, Siegfried? None of the retellings of the story have this!” and Siegfried’s like, “What?” and Gunther’s like, “Hello, I may be doughy but I still own a kingdom!” and Brunhild is like, “SHUT UP, we’ll wrestle for it in an hour” and Siegfried’s like, “Where am I?”
XII. ICE FIGHT
SIEGFRIED AND BRUNHILD TOTALLY BEAT ON EACH OTHER IN THIS BIG ICE FIGHT WOOO!
XIII. OH-SNAP CITY, POPULATION BRUNHILD
Can we get a dozen people? A dozen people is a populace, right?
- Gunther presents Brunhild to the populace.
- Brunhild is all, “So why don’t you love me any more?” and Siegfried is like, “Uh…any more?”
IN THE TEXT:
Brunhild hog-ties Gunther on the wedding night, and he gets angry and arranges for Siegfriend to shapeshift into his double, subdue her, and take away her, uh, “belt”.
Eh, whatever, show it anyway. Nobody likes an uppity chick.
Can we show this? Is this okay? Is this legal?
Can we get them topless? Look into this.
- Kriemhild gets pissy, shows off Brunhild’s belt, and spills the beans about the shape-shifting. Catfight on the cathedral stairs!
XV. OH-SNAP CITY, POPULATION BRUNHILD
Brunhild: So, hubby! I heard you cheated in the big fight and then had your friend overpower me because you couldn’t do it!
Brunhild: Yeah, that’s going to get avenged. Somebody’s gonna die, and it’s Siegfried or it’s me.
Genevieve: HELL YES!
Julian Sands: You know, he could accidentally get stabbed in his four-square-inch vulnerable spot tomorrow at the hunt.
Gunther: Sounds like a plan.
XVI. DEATH SCENE
DO NOT SHOW. NO money.
- During the hunt, Siegfried is stabbed by Hagen and dies.
Should be romantic: have him call out Brunhild’s name for no reason? Chicks dig that, right?
XVII. OH-SNAP CITY, POPULATION BRUNHILD
Spend the five dollars on a papier-mâché Julian Sands head. I can keep it for later!
- Brunhild, having figured out that Julian Sands is the root of all evil, including doughy kings and bullshit magic potions, kills everyone.
- Avoids a costly denouement!
Only show Siegfried’s funeral — no money for the others.
Kriemhild — alive, if you count a blank perma-stare as living.
Gunther — dead.
Julian Sands — dead.
Siegfried — dead.
Last-minute death — Brunhild, who throws herself on Siegfried’s sword in the middle of his burning funeral boat.
DRAGON-HEAD BOAT. That’ll be AWESOME.
Should probably have included more of a Christian v. pagan theme. Quick fix!
XIX. IS IT OVER YET?
Does that make any sense? Check with a Tolkien geek. They love this kind of stuff.
Weaselhair: Tonight the old gods live again!
His girlfriend: No, Giselher. Today the old gods die with them.
Genevieve Valentine is a writer in New York; her fiction has appeared in Strange Horizons, Byzarium, and Quarter After Eight, and she is an occasional columnist at Defenestration. Her appetite for bad movies is insatiable, a tragedy she tracks on her blog. She is currently working on a formula to evaluate the awfulness of any given film, a scale that will be measured in Julians.