Godfellas

The first thing one feels compelled to do when reading coverage about the prospective film adaptation of Paradise Lost (thanks, PRT) is to get the corrections out of the way:

[Producer Vincent] Newman also knows that some might see this project as a fool’s errand. “It’s a 400-some-odd-page poem written in Old English,” he said, laughing. “How do you find the movie in that?”

Paradise Lost is not Old English (that’s Beowulf). It’s not even Middle English (that’s Chaucer). It’s not even anachronistically archaic (that’s Spenser). Shakespeare’s language was Modern English (indeed along with the KJV he practically invented it), and Milton wrote his epic a half century after Shakespeare’s death.

Not to worry, though, the Newspaper of Record checks its facts and reports the truth (albeit with a non sequitor that will make your head spin):

But he speaks of the project with unflagging enthusiasm, though it may seem his passion is more for the idea of the poem than for the poem itself. (It’s in blank verse, not Old English.)

Wh- Wha- What? It’s not Old English: it’s blank verse! Ooooh, okay! Most of Shakespeare’s drama was in blank verse; how is that comparably extraordinary to Old English?

Non sequitor or not, at least it’s factually correct. Seventeen months ago The Times of London said the poem was “published in ten volumes” apparently because its ten chapters were called “books.” No, the Times of New York fact-checks the 340-year-old news; what it mixes up are the last couple years:

Newman bought the script and arranged co-financing with Legendary Pictures, which, with Warner Brothers, produced “Superman Begins” and “Batman Returns.”

They weren’t exactly under the radar films, but the York New Times can’t get Batman Begins and Superman Returns straight. Coincidentally, “Batman Returns” does happen to be the name of a real movie (to which the NYT links), but Legendary Pictures didn’t produce it.

Hey, I’m just glad they’re covering the production so some quotes could be procured from the screenwriters, producer, and a couple academics. Stuart Hazeldine, who wrote the second draft of the screenplay, offers this amusing analogy:

“Milton was trying to achieve with ‘Paradise Lost’ what Scorsese was trying to achieve with Henry Hill in ‘Goodfellas.’ You can’t understand the nature of the fall until you’ve tasted some of the exhilaration of sin and crime. Scorsese makes you feel the rush of being in the Mafia — what it’s like to be special, get the best table at a restaurant, kill anyone and get away with it. Milton was after something like that, and that’s what we’re trying to convey.”

Though I love Milton’s poem, I’m not a sentimentalist when it comes to screen adaptations of literature. Eleven months ago I suggested “the only way to make it cinematically interesting is to make the human plot secondary and focus on the angels and the War in Heaven” and it seems the producer agrees with me 100 percent:

As with any Hollywood development project, things are changing along the way. The original script hewed a bit too closely to Milton for the producer’s taste, for instance. Mr. Newman, by his own account, told the writers he wanted “less Adam and Eve and more about what’s happening with the archangels,” the battle in Heaven between God’s and Satan’s armies.

I think that’s the way forward, despite Legendary chairman Thomas Tull’s extremely backhand compliment that “if you get past the Milton of it all, and think about the greatest war that’s ever been fought, the story itself is pretty compelling.” He’s worried about making “older folks relive bad college experiences,” but it would probably be a guaranteed hit if they just dropped “Paradise” from the title.

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5 thoughts on “Godfellas

  1. jeri says:

    When is the targeted release date for this project?

    Honestly, I’ve only read bits and pieces of PL in high school and college, so I have zero to add to this conversation. Maybe I should make it my goal to read that within the next couple of years. Too bad my reading is so slow-going lately. Being out of school, I’ve gotten lazy and am mostly watching movies. I’ve been reading Wuthering Heights since August and still have 100 pages to go!

  2. PRT says:

    A date hasn’t been set; they haven’t even cast it yet. They say in the article they may want Daniel Craig to be Satan, which was an idea I initially liked, but then I looked on IMDB, and he’s playing two satan-like characters this and next year already: Lord Arsiel (sp?) from the “His Dark Materials” trilogy by Philip Pullman, and Lucifer in “I, Lucifer.” I think it would be overkill to have him play Satan in PL. Their other option was Heath Ledger, which makes me cringe.

    So, you should have plenty time to read PL. =) I just finished re-reading it for class, and I adore it more now than ever.

  3. Nobody says:

    I love Daniel Craig and I think he was a perfect Bond, but when it comes to Satan even I would resort to the old “he’s not beautiful enough” criticism. And the Miltonic themes in the Pullman movies do make it too similar, not to mention the I, Lucifer movie (which sounds interesting by the way).

    Likewise, my former favorite for the role was Paul Bettany until his albino psycho monk in The DaVinci Code.

    In his younger days I think David Bowie’s mysteriously androgynous appearance would have been ideal for Lucifer (part of what made Tilda Swinton so good as Michael in Constantine). Even so he still might be a good pick, so long as he doesn’t adopt an atrocious accent a la The Prestige.

    I think Jonathan Rhys Davis has the completely narcissistic and utterly depraved look down, but I’m not sure his acting chops are up to it.

    A few years ago I would have said Jude Law, but he’s become a complete caricature of himself and his flavor of narcissism seems more whiny than condescending (Sean Penn’s endorsement notwithstanding). Jude just seems completely dissolute. Actually maybe he would be good.

    Then again there’s always Llewes Sufur!

  4. Nobody says:

    P.S. Regarding reading PL, I’d say it’s more readable than Shakespeare, and a stage production of it last year made me realize that as drama it sounds just as good too.

  5. linds says:

    See, I’ve always wanted to see Hugh Jackman in an evil character role ever since he was the perfect-with-no-dark-side Curly in Oklahoma. I don’t know that he could do it, but I’ve always seen the Satan/Eve story with Satan as a smarmy guy. But that’s probably too campy for Milton.

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