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.