Newsbites: Xenophon! Nefertiti! Joan! Jesus!

What’s old is news — or newsbites — again.

1. Variety reports that Jimmy Miller, a producer best known for Will Ferrell comedies, is going to produce “several period dramas” with Robbie and Jonathan Stamp, who are described by the newspaper as “accomplished historians, authors and documentary filmmakers.” The latter Stamp even has experience as a producer on the HBO series Rome (2005-2007).

The first collaboration between Miller and the Stamps will be an adaptation of Anabasis, “a memoir written around 400 B.C. by Xenophon, a Greek soldier who was among 10,000 elite mercenaries who attacked the Persian Empire and who led them back through hostile terrain after their leader was betrayed and slain.” Naturally, the studio, Columbia Pictures, was interested in the project partly due to the success of 300 (2006), which was loosely inspired by a battle between Greeks and Persians that took place about 80 years earlier.

2. The Hollywood Reporter says producer Lucas Foster has optioned Robert Zacco’s novel The Arms of the Sun:

The novel is part of a trilogy about the ancient Egyptian pharaohs and focuses on Nefertiti, the consort of Akhenaton, the first royal to espouse belief in a single god.

Many scholars have speculated that there may have been some sort of connection between Akhenaten’s monotheism and that practised by the ancient Hebrews, who were either slaves in Egypt under Akhenaten’s reign or had been liberated just a generation or two earlier, depending on whose chronology you follow. I know nothing about Zacco’s novel, but it would be interesting to see if he gets into that at all.

And say, this reminds me, what ever became of John Heyman’s Nefertiti, which was going to be based on a book which espoused the theory that Akhenaten and the biblical prophet Moses were one and the same person?

3. Variety and the Hollywood Reporter both say John Goodman is back on board as Pope Sergius in Pope Joan, which is based on a novel about a woman who allegedly led the Catholic church while posing as a man during the 9th century. David Wenham will play Gerold, “the lover of the titular female pontiff.”

4. Mark Goodacre reports that the British mini-series The Passion — not to be confused with Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (2004), which covers the same basic topic — will be coming to DVD in the UK in October. The mini-series was broadcast on the BBC last Easter, and is due to play on HBO in the United States probably sometime next year. I have no idea when or where it might be playing in Canada.

Rosenbaum on DeMille’s Commandments

Jonathan Rosenbaum has just posted a review of Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments (1956) that he wrote for the Chicago Reader when the film was re-issued way back in 1990. Very interesting stuff. I would quibble with a few of his statements of fact and at least one of his more minor interpretations — I do think, in fact, that the film inclines us to believe that Joshua and Lilia get together in the end — but the broader contours of his argument seem sound to me. I especially like his points about the changing nature of special effects over the past half-century, and how parts of the film are even, in some ways, anti-spectacle.

Is Jason Bourne bigger than Matt Damon?

iF Magazine reported last week that Doug Liman, director of The Bourne Identity (2002) and producer of its two sequels, has confirmed that a fourth movie is in development — and he says it may be made with or without Matt Damon:

However, could Liman see the series going on without Damon, a la the Bond franchise?

“Yeah,” he says. “Jason Bourne is a movie star. I think Matt Damon is not as big a movie star as Jason Bourne is. Daniel Craig is a movie star, but James Bond is more of a movie star.”

Two possible problems with Liman’s somewhat glib assessment:

One, Damon made Bourne a star in the first place, so it is by no means clear that Bourne could carry on without him. Remember how Sean Connery left the Bond franchise after five movies, only to be replaced by George Lazenby, after which the producers begged Connery to come back, before ultimately moving on to Roger Moore? It took the Bond franchise a while to find its footing, after Connery’s initial departure, and it could easily take the Bourne franchise a while to do so, too — especially since it is not at all clear where the franchise could go from here, given that the third film essentially undid the whole premise of the series.

Two, the Bond films — especially the early ones — were based fairly closely on a very popular, and rather long, series of novels and short stories, whereas the Bourne films, as I understand it, have basically ignored the books from the get-go and have used little of them beyond the titles and a few basic ideas. So Bond has always had a separate fanbase, quite apart from the movies, and whenever the movie franchise has tried to regenerate itself, it has done so by reaching out to that fanbase and stressing its renewed faithfulness to Ian Fleming’s original stories. The Bourne franchise wouldn’t have those options: there are only three books, the fanbase is not as big, and the movies have strayed so far from their source material that there is probably no way they could make a point of being faithful to the books now even if they wanted to.

Quantum of Solace — the theme song’s a duet!

Nikki Finke is reporting that Jack White and Alicia Keys have recorded a duet as the theme song for the upcoming James Bond film Quantum of Solace — the first duet in the franchise’s history, at least where the opening credits are concerned. The song is called ‘Another Way to Die’, so a question that has preoccupied the minds of soundtrack buffs everywhere remains unanswered: Have the composers figured out a way to work the movie’s rather unusual title into the lyrics of its theme song? (It’s not impossible: Just look at how Carly Simon’s ‘Nobody Does It Better’ found a way to use the words “the spy who loved me” back in 1977.)

Tom Marvolo Riddle through the years.

USA Today has released the first official picture of Hero Fiennes-Tiffin in character as the young Tom Riddle, the boy who will grow up to be the evil Dark Lord Voldemort, in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. To mark the occasion, here are a handful of screen captures depicting the various actors and special effects that have played Voldemort at various points in his life:

Tom Riddle, age 11 — Hero Fiennes-Tiffin, age 10

Tom Riddle, age 16 — Frank Dillane, age 16

Tom Riddle, age 16 — Christian Coulson, age 23

Voldemort, age 65-ish — computer-generated special effect

Voldemort, age 68-ish — Ralph Fiennes, age 42

Voldemort, age 71-ish — Ralph Fiennes, age 47

Another actor, Frank Dillane, has been cast as the teenaged Tom Riddle in Half-Blood Prince — Christian Coulson, the actor who played him in Chamber of Secrets, is 29 now, so he’s almost certainly too old for the part! — but no pictures of him in character have surfaced yet. When they do, I’ll update this little gallery.

JUL 14 2010 UPDATE: I have now added Dillane’s picture above.

I have also added a picture of Voldemort from the climax to Deathly Hallows, as per the trailer that was released a few weeks ago; between that and the picture I already had from Goblet of Fire, I figured it would be good to capture both the beginning and ending of Ralph Fiennes’ take on the character.

Yet another Noah’s Ark cartoon brewing?

The Hollywood Reporter says Casey Affleck, the Oscar-nominated younger brother of Ben, pitched an animated film called Aardvark Art’s Ark two years ago and is still developing it at Warner Brothers, though a new screenwriter has been brought in to do the rewrites while Affleck takes care of his busy acting career.

The paper says the film concerns “a group of animals who are stranded when they are not chosen to go on Noah’s ark.”

That brings the number of recent and in-development Noah’s Ark cartoons — whether literal or quasi-allegorical — up to six. Other such films that I have noted here include:

  1. The Flood — Promenade Pictures
  2. Rock the Boat — Gaumont
  3. Noah’s Ark — Unified Pictures
  4. El Arca — Patagonik Film Group
  5. The Missing Lynx — Kandor Graphics

And that’s not counting the seemingly defunct projects that were once being developed by Bill Cosby and Walden Media — to say nothing of the recent live-action effort Evan Almighty (2007).