Friday, February 24, 2012

Paradise Lost Lost

Well, that was a short, bumpy ride. Tragically, just days after it was announced filming would start in June, the plug was pulled on Alex Proyas's Bradley Cooper-studded adaptation of John Milton's 1667 epic poem Paradise Lost. Let's have a few stanzas of silence.

My emotional relationship with this hypothetical movie has been fraught and exciting. When I first heard that a big-budget action movie of Paradise Lost was being made, and that romcom everydouche Bradley Cooper was playing Lucifer, my facial expressions ranged from 0_0 to >:| .

I've never gotten the Bradley Cooper thing. People think he is sexy, I guess? Men have even said the whole "I'm not gay at all, but..." routine to me re: Cooper. I just don't see the hotness. And this role? For Lucifer/Satan, I could see them going brawny & broody (Javier Bardem) or snottily pretty (Michael Pitt), but Cooper's kind of a weird in-between. His popular image - hair gel, polo shirts - also seems very modern, so it was hard to picture him as a character predating the solar system.

Branded windbreaker, newsie hat...Lucifer is set!

But something good happened with all my smug assholery. I realized that I couldn't really complain about an adaptation of a book I hadn't studied since AP English, and decided to re-read it. And I realized that, uh, there's a reason it's a classic.

Milton's Lucifer is a flawed (understatement) but very understandable, very human, character. He's prideful, but also second-guesses himself. He's impulsive at the worst possible times, but then overthinks his way into even more trouble. His conniving ways have gotten his fellow fallen angels into this mess, but he wants to do right by them now that they're here...yet he isn't regretful enough to stop with the manipulative trickery. He can be very brave but also feels fear. He's capable of love and friendship but stubbornly insists on revenge. He's hardly literature's least likeable protagonist. You don't want to kill him; you just want to grab him by the shoulders and say, "STOP. Stop right now and we are going to really talk this over!"

Also, snakes do not count as pants, Satan.

The more I read, the more I became interested in what Cooper would do with the role. It's a complex, timeless part, and I began to see why Cooper was a good choice for it. Another actor I was looking forward to watching was Camilla Belle, cast as Eve. Milton's depiction of Eve is famously, um... Rep. Darrell Issa-esque, but even in scenes where we aren't offered Eve's voice or thinking, Belle would have had a lot to work with. Eve is talked down to and talked over a lot in the pre-fall scenes. Adam takes a "don't worry your pretty little head" approach to her, and when archangel Raphael comes to warn the couple after Lucifer has breached Eden security, he ignores Eve almost completely. What might Eve be doing during those scenes? Would she be complacent in the background, or might Belle's eyes have shown something deeper, an emotion Eve can't yet express aloud? A frustration with her passive state? A budding thirst for knowledge? With his philosophical musings on the nature of the universe and many references to cutting-edge (17th Century) science, it's hard to argue that Milton argues against knowledge in Paradise Lost.

Also Casey Affleck was going to play Gabriel. Casey Affleck. Gabriel. A Bostonian archangel. We lost that.

One of the other wonderful things about the poem is the power of Milton's imagination when it comes to settings. His descriptions of varied but uniformly despairing landscapes of Hell, the extremely efficient fallen angels mining their new home for metals and building a palace out of them, the disorienting Chaos of drifting elements, the farthest reaches of space (or at least as far as Milton's friend Galileo had been able to see), the cosmic battlegrounds...these are all breathtaking, and tempting to imagine in HD on the big screen. But what might have been one of the film's greatest strengths was also its downfall (oh, the irony!) - the movie would have required a ton of very expensive special effects, and cost was why the film was axed.

I agree, Satan.

Image credits:
Photo by David Shankbone
Watercolor by William Blake
Etching by Gustave Dore

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