A long time ago — sometime in 2002 or 2003 — my sister excitedly informed me they were making a movie based on The Iliad and Orlando Bloom would be in it.
“Nonsense,” I said. “That’s totally going to fall apart. No one has ever managed to make that into a movie.” Boy, I was wrong. As I was typing out “There’s no way Angelina Jolie will ever be Cleopatra in a movie. This isn’t going to happen. It will fall apart!”, I remembered how wrong I was. So, I should bite my tongue.
Color me surprised, though. I was honestly under the impression that this whole story — Jolie, some kind of Cleopatra epic, Brad Pitt as Mark Antony — was something cooked up by studio executives and celebrity magazine editors. But Jolie has apparently given very extensive quotes about how much she wants to do it, so it isn’t all a People Magazine fantasy. She is really setting out to play Cleopatra. She’s doing historical research, and she can even discuss it sensibly.
Now Deadline Hollywood Daily reports that Brian Helgeland has completed “a brilliant script”, Amy Pascal is fast tracking it in 3D, and that Sony and James Cameron are “flirting” with the idea of him directing it. The tone of the DHD article waffles a bit. It’s serious, it’s flirting, they’re definitely talking, but there’s nothing concrete yet. I’m sure they are talking. Call me crazy, but a 3D Jolie seems right up Cameron’s alley somehow.
It’s still so hard for me to believe any of this, though. As so many have already said in their commentaries, it’s Hollywood history literally repeating itself. One of history’s legendary icons being played by one of Hollywood’s most notorious beauties. A budget that would probably outstrip that of Avatar in a single day. (The Battle of Actium isn’t going to be cheap even if it is entirely CGI.) How can anyone be so mad as to actually try to mimic the 1963 disaster that was Cleopatra? The whole DHD article smacks of obsession (as if no one in the entire history of the world was ever fascinated by the historical Cleopatra) and yet a canny awareness of cashing in on that campy history. This is allegedly the age where there are no new ideas, but we truly must have hit a dark age if a studio is desperate enough for marketability that they will even revive an musty tabloid epic alongside a cinematic and historical one. Can’t you just see the headlines screaming about Jolie and whoever her Mark Antony is?
To be fair, I’m not entirely against the idea of a Cleopatra movie. There’s new research, and it could be used well by the right script. I don’t even despise the Jolie casting — whatever Cleopatra may have looked like (and oh, the amateur historians are crawling out of the blogosphere woodwork), she was incredibly charismatic. The ancient world was fixated on her. The most famous men of the day were obsessed by her. Artists and writers began spinning their visions before she was cold in the ground. The tendency has always been to romanticize and glamorize, which is why we’ll never get a good movie. (I do have a major weakness for the heaving bosoms and breastplate of Taylor and Burton, respectively. That was just hot.) I can even accept that, new research or not, it will be more about bodice ripping than Egypt’s grain exports. (Though not much ripping and sexing, since it will be in PG-13. That only allows for lusty kisses and postcoital cuddling, right?)
But even romance must go out the window when Sony is immediately dreaming of 3D, James Cameron, Brad Pitt, and a franchise in Will Smithian terms. That’s not glamorous moviemaking, that’s just a trainwreck. Even on paper, it makes Taylor’s production look restrained and classy. Wait, does Sony know what happened to Fox post-Cleopatra? Someone should tell them. Or not. It helped end the studio system. Maybe this is exactly what we need.
So go for it, Sony! Make this enormous 3D mistake. At the end of the day, you’re never, ever going to top the perfection of this 1:21 offered by HBO’s Rome.