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Epic Movies: potentially epic failures

By Brendan Barnes, Staff Writer

As if following in Rob Zombie's footsteps and remaking a classic that had no conceivable reason, besides money, to be remade—2008's critical failure "The Day the Earth Stood Still"—was not enough, director Scott Derrickson has set his sights one of the most prized and most difficult works in the English literary canon: John Milton's "Paradise Lost." It seems rather odd that Legendary Pictures, has handed the reins to Derrickson on adapting Milton's classic, considering that Derrickson has yet to prove himself as a director. Granted, Christopher Nolan was greeted with much skepticism when Warner Brothers handed him the Batman Franchise, but then again Nolan by then had two excellent movies under his belt in "Memento" and "Insomnia." Unfortunately, Derrickson does not.

What is so confusing about Legendary's choice of director is that "Paradise Lost" has the potential to be an epic and entertaining, award-winning film, two things in which Derrickson does not have a background. Even proven directors, like Robert Zemeckis and Wolfgang Petersen, have shown the difficulty inherent in adapting literary epics in their respective works, "Beowulf" (2007) and "Troy"(2004). Zemeckis' "Beowulf," although it boasted a cast including Anthony Hopkins, John Malkovich and Angelina Jolie, ultimately failed to present a new and interesting perception of the original Anglo-Saxon poem. Instead, audiences were forced to sit through two hours of CGI and stock Hollywood plot devices: forgotten pasts resurfacing and causing conflict and overly violent and unbelievable battle scenes. Petersen's "Troy," an adaptation of Homer's "Iliad," fared slightly better, presenting several minor characters that were more three-dimensional than their literary counterparts. However, the more crucial characters of the Homer's work—Ajax and Diomedes—suffer from simplification or even deletion. 

The only historical epics that work, it seems, then are the originals that do not rely upon literary narratives for their source, mainly Ridley Scott's "Gladiator." Zach Snyder's "300" possibly makes a case as well, since it is only adapted from Frank Miller's graphic novel of the same name. The absence of a true literary work in both these films seemingly frees the directors from often unfair comparisons to the original, but it also allows the directors more creative freedom to explore their own ideas rather than an ancient poet's.
But still the question lingers: Why Scott Derrickson? Perhaps, because Legendary Pictures has some obvious leverage over the director and can easily have him make the film they want. His remake of "The Day the Earth Stood Still" was abysmal in comparison to the 1951 original, but it still managed to rake in over $200 million worldwide.

Legendary probably has similar expectations for "Paradise Lost": sacrificing a well-written, meaningful story for big-budget effects and barrages of action. But, after all, money is the ultimate objective—at all costs— for any movie these days, leading audiences to conclude that it is better to reign in Hollywood than to make a decent movie.                

A scene from the 2000 epic movie, “Gladiator” starring Russell Crowe (Photo Courtesy of

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