Paradise Lost and sympathy for the devil.

Here’s another delayed reaction, on my part, to a report that may or may not have come out of last week’s Comic-Con.

One day before director Scott Derrickson took part in a panel to discuss his upcoming remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still, MTV Movie News posted an interview with him that touched on a completely different subject altogether: his long-gestating adaptation of John Milton’s Paradise Lost.

Some excerpts from the story:

Imagine the most evil creature that ever existed, a villain who commits atrocity after atrocity, who has scarred the world and each and every creature in it, a scoundrel so heinous he makes Heath Ledger’s anarchist Joker look like Mother Teresa. Now imagine that you like him.

Director Scott Derrickson says that when you see his upcoming adaptation of “Paradise Lost,” the epic 17th-century poem by John Milton about the Fall of Man, you won’t be able to help but have sympathy for its bad guy: the devil.

“What’s interesting to me is that you cannot help but feel that his initial feelings of being disgruntled are merited, and I feel a lot of empathy for the Lucifer character in the beginning of the story,” said Derrickson, who wrote and directed “The Exorcism of Emily Rose.” “I would want the audience to be sympathetic with him at the beginning, and what happens — what he’s up against and what he’s wrestling and struggling with — you certainly feel that.” . . .

“In the movie, Satan goes from being a completely good being [an angel] to becoming the most heinous kind of evil, and you really have a hard time knowing exactly where he crossed that line because you were with him,” the director said. “What is interesting about that story, in the way Milton laid it out, is that people jump off with him at different points and some never at all. Properly done, it’s a story that tells readers a lot about themselves.

“You have to respect that Milton created the first anti-hero with that poem, and certainly this was preserved in the script,” Derrickson added. “At what point does love turn to jealousy, jealousy turn into hate and hate into evil?” . . .

Add up all the challenges — the evil character at its heart, the theology, the visuals, the epic story line — and adapting “Paradise Lost” is no easy task. For his part, though, Derrickson can’t wait for the opportunity.

“It would not be an easy movie to make, but it would be groundbreaking,” he said. “It’s really worthy of the attempt.”

Incidentally, when I last mentioned this film a year and a half ago, I suggested that the producers could address the “nudity problem”, with regard to Adam and Eve, through some sort of digital effect. What that effect would be, exactly, I don’t know — but the actors wouldn’t have to be really naked, and it would be a lot easier to obscure the nudity if the filmmakers so desired.

Since then, we have seen the trailer for Zack Snyder’s upcoming adaptation of Watchmen, which features some digital nudity in the person of Dr. Manhattan, the footage of whom is based on a motion-capture performance by Billy Crudup. So there would now be a high-profile precedent for doing that sort of thing.

Angelina Jolie’s naked-but-still-high-heeled seductress in Robert Zemeckis’s Beowulf (2007) could also be cited as a precedent, I suppose, but that entire film was animated, with no live-action, so it’s sort of in a different category. Still worth noting, though.

Boy, that arm gets a lot of abuse.

Today was Peter O’Toole‘s 76th birthday, so in honour of the occasion I finally got around to watching a copy of How to Steal a Million (1966) that I took out of the library ages ago but hadn’t gotten around to seeing yet. And as I watched, I noticed an interesting parallel between this and one of O’Toole’s earlier films.

In How to Steal a Million, Audrey Hepburn accidentally shoots O’Toole in the arm after he sneaks into her home, and in the following scene, she prepares some iodine for his wound:

Compare this to the scene in Lawrence of Arabia (1962) where O’Toole is also shot in the arm, this time by a Turkish soldier who presumably wanted to hit him in a much more lethal place:

Are there any other examples of this in his filmography, I wonder?

As for How to Steal a Million as a whole, it’s a light, frothy confection — part heist film, part romantic comedy — of the sort that Old Hollywood was still churning out while New Hollywood was getting ready to take over the industry. There’s a scene in the film where Hepburn is reading an Alfred Hitchcock magazine, and in some ways this film feels like the sort of thing Hitchcock would have made in the 1950s — though by this point, he had moved on to grittier stuff like Psycho (1960) and The Birds (1963).

The two main reasons I was curious to see this film are O’Toole, of course, and the director, William Wyler.

O’Toole spends most of the film in quiet, witty banter mode, and he never quite gets the chance to explode the way that he did in other films of this period, such as Becket (1964) and The Lion in Winter (1968) — so there is something oddly restrained about his performance here. You can almost sense him dialing things back so as to fit within the genre. And just to show how conscious this film is of its debt to earlier movies, O’Toole even mimics an American gangster-style voice at a couple of points, to tease the Hepburn character about her interest in the heist.

Wyler, for his part, had been directing films since the silent era, winning three Oscars along the way, but he was on the verge of retirement here, and it shows. Not only was he working in a familiar genre, he was working with familiar actors, at least two of whom had earned Oscars under his direction; he had previously worked with Hepburn in Roman Holiday (1953) and The Children’s Hour (1961), and he had worked with Hugh Griffith, who plays Hepburn’s art-forging father, in Ben-Hur (1959).

Nothing here is up to the calibre of those films, alas, but you can’t really blame these people for wanting to spend time together on a movie set at least one more time before bidding farewell to the business. (Hepburn, too, pretty much retired a year or two after this; she was called out of retirement a few times over the next few decades, but this movie came near the end of an otherwise unbroken string of films going back to the early 1950s.)

How interesting, though, that they should share this last fling with an actor like O’Toole, who was just getting started back then.

Keanu Reeves on the humanizing of Klaatu


In the original The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951; my comments), produced at the exact mid-point between the creation of the atomic bomb in 1945 and the launching of the first artificial satellite in 1957, an alien comes to Earth to warn human beings that they need to give up their warlike ways if they are going to journey into space. There are other civilizations out there, see, and they won’t allow the humans to do them any harm. In fact, those other civilizations have even created a race of robot policemen whose job it is to wipe out anyone who poses a threat to the peace. Since humans have not yet made it into space, they do not pose such a threat — yet. But if humans do get that far, then it will be, shall we say, in their best interest to make sure that they come in peace.

In the remake, which comes out in December, the alien comes bearing a different message. This time, he tells human beings that they need to stop destroying the environment. But, of course, human beings are already destroying the environment. This time, the warning does not apply to something that we might do in the future; rather, it refers to something that we are doing now, and indeed to something that we have been doing for quite some time. So, not surprisingly, to judge from the following images — taken from the trailer — it would seem that the aliens or their robot policemen have decided not to waste any time, and are already setting out to punish the human race, to the point where they are atomizing entire neighbourhoods. (And what becomes of the people within them? Does the truck driver survive the destruction of his truck?)


Now, I’m just speculating here, but given that this movie is a major studio tentpole, it stands to reason that, despite all these apocalyptic overtones, the human race will not be wiped out in the end — not entirely, at any rate. That would probably be too bleak for the masses. But if my supposition is correct, then what, exactly, would stop the aliens from carrying out their mission?

Keanu Reeves, who plays the alien Klaatu in the new movie, may have given us a hint when he spoke to Kevin Buist of SpoutBlog at Comic-Con last week:

Yeah, part of the story this time is for, um– is a kind of– He’s in a human body but he’s an alien, it’s a part of this– The journey of the story is that he, uh, kind of becomes more human, kind of becomes affected being with the humans and being in a body that– The story is that he kind of goes towards– gets, uh– gets in touch with his humanness, I guess.

So if the human race does survive in the end — and I strongly suspect that it will — it seems like this will be, in part, a result of the “humanizing” of Klaatu and his increased sympathy or empathy for us.

This raises all sorts of other questions, chief among them the question of what sort of relationship Klaatu has with the robots this time. In the original film, and in the short story on which it was based, the big “twist” was that the robots were not the aliens’ servants but were, in some sense, their masters. If that is still the case, then it is not clear how the “humanizing” of Klaatu would have any effect on them; the technological overlords would still be free to ignore him, just as they ignore all the human beings from Earth.

But wait a minute: what does it mean that Klaatu has a “human body”? Is he a purely organic alien in a human body, a la, say, the Jeff Bridges character in Starman (1984)? Or is he an alien robot in a human body? Is he, perhaps, a member of the technological overlords, or an extension of their technology, who discovers along the way that there is something deeper and more important than mere machinery and its imperatives? If so, then that might explain how Klaatu would be able to influence those overlords. If Klaatu is, in a sense, “one of them”, and if they are all interconnected, then if he develops a “soul”, it could almost be as though they developed one, too.

Just speculation, of course. But if I am anywhere near the mark, then it would seem that this film challenges the faith in pure machinery that marked the original film, just as, say, Alex Proyas’s adaptation of I, Robot (2004) challenged the faith in pure machinery that characterized Isaac Asimov’s original novel. And note, by the way, that both Asimov’s I, Robot and the original version of The Day the Earth Stood Still came out in the early 1950s. A lot has changed in our attitudes towards machinery and modernity in the half-century since.

For that matter, I wonder what effect the “humanizing” of Klaatu may have on his status as a Christ-figure. The original Klaatu — played by Michael Rennie, who went on to play St. Peter in The Robe (1953) and Demetrius and the Gladiators (1954) — was a clear authority figure who came down to Earth to deliver a message to human beings. He may have, in some sense, matched some people’s conception of Jesus as a perfectly divine being who merely appeared human during his time on Earth. But there has been a significant emphasis in the last few decades on understanding the humanity of Jesus, even to the point where some basically orthodox Christians have asked what God might have “learned” from the experience of actually being human. It will be interesting to see if this film resonates with those developments in any way.

But the movie could also be completely different from anything that I have suggested here. Like I say, I’m just speculating.

Did they have Christian bookstores then?

T.S. Eliot, in his essay ‘Religion and Literature’, written in 1935:

It is our business, as readers of literature, to know what we like. It is our business, as Christians, as well as readers of literature, to know what we ought to like. It is our business as honest men not to assume that whatever we like is what we ought to like; and it is our business as honest Christians not to assume that we do like what we ought to like. And the last thing I would wish for would be the existence of two literatures, one for Christian consumption and the other for the pagan world.

Hat tip to my colleague Alissa Wilkinson.

Swing Vote — the review’s up!

My review of Swing Vote is now up at CT Movies.

Kings — a little bit biblical, a little bit sci-fi


A few days late, this post, but better late than never, as they say. One of the many shows that had a panel at last week’s Comic-Con was Kings, the NBC series that modernizes the biblical story of David and his complicated relationship with King Saul.

I had always thought that the series would be taking place in “our” world, to the extent that most works of fiction set in the present usually do — I had vaguely assumed that all the references to “soldiers” and “kingdoms” in the earlier reports were basically metaphorical — but it turns out the series is a little stranger than that. Liz Shannon Miller, writing at Anne Thompson’s blog, reports:

The pilot sets up an alternate universe where, after a devastating civil war, New York and the surrounding area has become a kingdom led by King Silas (Ian McShane). David (Chris Egan) takes on Goliath-brand tanks. . . .

Creator Michael Green (“Heroes”) spoke candidly about getting the opportunity to pitch a pilot to NBC: His response was to “give them the weirdest idea I had.”

Audience questioned both the religious and political overtones of the story. Green denied intending a Biblical context — “it’s just a hero’s story” — despite the pilot beginning with King Silas giving a speech full of references to God.

“Is the fact that it’s a monarchy meant to be omnious?” one audience member asked, admitting, “it made me feel a little uncomfortable.” But the panel refrained from drawing comparisons between the political structure of “Kings” and the current American government, preferring to point toward the parallel between the power held by corporate CEOs. . . .

Carmen Andres also links to this interview that series creator Michael Green did with SciFi.com:

But Green said the series is not literal in that he plays with the iconic story and that it veers into what he calls “soft sci-fi.” “I’m not afraid of sci-fi, and I love it,” he said. “We didn’t want to do this as a space opera. We wanted it to be a familiar world, but at the same time we are inventing a world. We had a lot of fun inventing what this world is going to look like. We are taking New York and impressing our own aesthetic and own iconography. We got to have a lot of fun with that. I remember talking to David Eick about this when he was doing Battlestar, and he said they were always asking themselves the question ‘What do doorknobs looks like?’ We decided that we wanted to have things look like they could fit in our worlds, but you’re not sure what city it is.”

Green said that part of the SF element has to do with the idea of “magic, faith, happenstance, luck, God.” “I look at it as the hand of faith guiding the heroes,” he said. “I’m curious to see how people perceive that. The ongoing discussions when people see it are ‘Is that magic? Did something just happen beyond physics? Is it something special or luck?’ I won’t answer that and will let people interpret that.”

Meanwhile, Entertainment Weekly‘s Vanessa Juarez passes on the news that pilot director Francis Lawrence and producer Erwin Stoff “had been working on a classic D+G film at Universal”. Is that “D+G” as in “David and Goliath”? Are they referring to the script that Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski wrote about a year and a half ago? What’s the status on that project these days?

Finally, NBC has provided this video of the panel — and miracle of miracles, I can actually watch it here in Canada:

http://widgets.nbc.com/o/4727a250e66f9723/4892c2bb6efd6a76/488a2b7a07cadad8/21831e9f
Click here if the video file above doesn’t play properly.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X