Category Archives: Paradise Lost

East of Eden

It sounds like Scott Derrickson is off the Paradise Lost project, since according to HNR he’s now working on the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still.

Needless to say, this could be a good thing, if PL gets a better director, or a bad thing if it gets a worse one.

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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.

Satan Incarnate

Thinking about actors that could play Satan in Paradise Lost, the best choice would probably be Paul Bettany:

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Sure, he’s playing nothing but baddies this year (Firewall, The DaVinci Code) but it looks like, unfortunately, he won’t be playing the Joker in Nolan’s next Batman film, so he won’t have to be both the Clown Prince of Crime and Darkness.

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Bettany in Joker suit, kidnapping Jennifer
Connelly from the premiere of Wimbledon,
starring the Batgirl

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Bettany in Satan suit

Then Rufus Sewell sprung to mind, the hero of Dark City and subsequent professional bad guy. My first thought was that he’s played sinister too often recently (Bless the Child, A Knight’s Tale, Helen of Troy, Legend of Zorro) and is too easy to dislike.

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Though he’s got the perfect look (middle-age yet totally wrinkle-free) it would be a bit of typecasting. But then I looked at his name again and saw it backwards:

LLEWES SUFUR

Holy. Crap. Was this guy born to play the Prince of Darkness?

A quick check at IMDB reveals that, yes, “Rufus Sewell” is in fact his birth name.

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“Lucifer” on his infernal throne

PARADISE REGAINED DIRECTOR

I know this news is a bit old, but the longer I think about the director of Emily Rose being hired to helm the announced adaptaion of Paradise Lost, the less cynical I’m becoming.

My initial reaction six months ago was that it would be impossible for this to succeed in any artistic way that retains any integrity of the source. Since the poem is basically 10,565 lines of long theological speeches, this movie will make Troy (which I actually liked though most didn’t) look like a word-for-word transliteration, and its best hope is to be a fascinating disaster.

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Perfectly healthy, perfectly normal: Francis Hayman’s illustration of Satan, his self-conceived daughter and lover Sin, and their offspring Death.

But nobody knows if Phil DiBlasi and Byron Willinger’s screenplay focuses primarily on Adam and Eve cavorting in Eden and the human Fall (bor-ing!), or on the sensational bits leading up to the Satanic Fall (potentially very hokey or very cool). In my opinion 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. It has to gung-ho be as over-the-top as Book VI really is. That part might be cool to see on screen, if done without crappy Dogma-style wings (however, the character Angel in X3 seems a good precedent for credible wings).

By the way, on a practical note, does anybody yet know if this is going to be live action or traditional animation or 3D animation or rotoscoping (a la A Scanner Darkly)? At the moment the closest thing to Paradise Lost on screen is the opening flashback in The Two Towers, when Gandalf is fighting the Balrog while both are falling, then there’s that very wide-angle shot of them falling into a giant cavern. It’s a perfect image of the opening lines of Paradise Lost which describe Satan “hurled headlong, flaming from th’ ethereal sky, with hideous ruin and combustion down to bottomless perdition, there to dwell in adamantine chains and penal fire”!

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As for the news, the hiring of Derrickson suggests to me that this adaptation will have plenty of the cool supernatural elements, so that is a good thing. I haven’t seen Hellraiser: Inferno, but I assume it means Derrickson has experience with imaginative visuals of a supernatural and demonic nature (Emily Rose was fairly light on those counts).

More interestingly, the prospect of a Christian director means there is the possibility he actually understands the source material on its own terms and won’t be preoccupied trying to reinterpret the story for our times or something (e.g. Paradise Lost: Opera Electronica — yes, I saw it in 2004).

Also, his filmography of three horror-genre movies means Derrickson is unlikely to make Satan the “hero” of the story as the poem is often interpreted. That said, I’m sure he will make Satan at least sympathetic — as did Milton, who even gave him credible arguments against his various opponents — because otherwise Satan would be neither believable nor threatening.