Hollywood! Adapt This: Dante Alighieri’s THE DIVINE COMEDY

     September 22, 2013

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Earlier this week, we reported that Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted) was confirmed as the director of MGM’s reboot of Ben-Hur.  This is far from the only Biblical era project in the works as Darren Aronofsky’s Noah is prepping to launch for Paramount and New Regency next March, and Ridley Scott’s Exodus is set to open in December 2014 for 20th Century Fox, which will also release a theatrical cut of The Bible miniseries coming under the title of Son of God.  While it’s plain to see that studios are banking on a big box office draw from these religious adaptations, it’s unfortunate that none of them seem to be taking a chance with a lesser-seen property.  The stories of Judah Ben-Hur, Noah, Moses and Jesus Christ are already so well known, and even though the epic flood of Noah’s tale will be cool to see on the big screen, I’d like to see some other stories get the feature treatment.  Hit the jump for today’s adaptation suggestion of one such property that comes tailor-made for a film trilogy.  Hollywood!  Adapt this: Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy.

What It’s About:

dante-alighieriWritten by the Italian Alighieri between 1308 and his death in 1321, this epic poem follows the author’s journey through the afterlife over the course of three installments: Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso.  The allegory for the human soul’s journey toward God through Hell, Purgatory and Heaven has inspired countless artists over the centuries, from composers and sculptors to video game designers and filmmakers.  However, most of the films only reference Alighieri’s work or re-imagine it in a contemporary setting rather than adapting the work with respect to the time period it was written in.  I’m surprised that no major studio has signed on for the adaptation since it comes as a pre-packaged trilogy.

Inferno sees Dante lost in a dark wood and unable to find his way toward the light until the Roman poet Virgil rescues him.  The two embark on a journey through the underworld.  Their first task is to pass through Hell and its nine circles of suffering, representing Dante’s recognition and rejection of sin.  (Others weren’t so lucky, from those who achieved nothing in life and were sentenced to an eternity of pursuing self interests while being stung by wasps, to the ninth circle that imprisons the treacherous, with Satan as its chief tenant.)  While Inferno may be the most recognizable, the second and third sections are equally as visually striking and thought-provoking.

Purgatorio follows Virgil and Dante’s climb up the Mount of Purgatory, which houses seven terraces that represent the seven deadly sins.  Here, sinners are punished more for their thoughts than their actions, and the climb serves as Dante’s own self-reflection on sins such as pride, wrath and lust.  Atop the Mount of Purgatory, Beatrice replaces Virgil as Dante’s guide, as the poet was not learned in the teachings of Christ.  Paradiso concludes the Divine Comedy as Beatrice guides Dante on his soul’s ascension to God through series of concentric spheres surrounding the Earth.  The Heavenly bodies here are representations of cardinal and theological virtues rather than sins, and the path leads the way to the Empyrean, the dwelling of God Himself.

dante-alighieri-divine-comedy-ninth-circleHow Could / Why Should It Be Adapted?

There are a couple of projects in the works that are related to the Divine Comedy.  One is an adaptation of the video game Dante’s Inferno, which recently landed director Fede Alvarez (Evil Dead).  While that should be a fun action movie, Dante’s Inferno compared to The Divine Comedy is like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter compared to Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln.  There’s also an ongoing project from filmmaker Boris Acosta, but that ambitious plan appears to be more of a labor of love than a studio-driven film trilogy.

Any plans for an adaptation of The Divine Comedy will likely go the way of Alex Proyas’ sidelined adaptation of John Milton’s epic poem, Paradise Lost.  In an economic climate where even Disney is capping their budgets to avoid losses from box office bombs, there’s simply no enthusiasm for an expensive and unproven property, even if that property takes audiences through a journey not just through the fires of Hell itself, but into redemption and beyond.  Stories like this just aren’t seen as profitable in the material world, even if they’d work wonders for the spiritual one.

The Final Word:

dante-alighieri-paradiso-empyreanWhile the Biblical adaptations mentioned above will no doubt be visually striking and likely use cutting-edge filmmaking technology, there is so much material in The Divine Comedy that simply hasn’t been seen on screen before.  It’s such a rich environment for a creative filmmaker to run wild with.  Bringing the story – which is dense and difficult to decipher at times due to anachronisms –  to a theater-going audience in a movie format is quite simply the most effective way of getting the message across.  And this is just an example of Christian mythology that hasn’t been brought to light in the theater, let alone other Abrahamic religions, East Asian, Indian, African, contemporary and folk religions.  There is quite literally an entire world’s worth of stories to adapt and yet studios keep recycling the same old stories because they’re accessible and reliable box office properties.  It’s a shame, but at least the religious texts are still available for your own personal edification.

Let us know what you think about this week’s suggestion in the comments below, and be sure to tune in for the next installment of Hollywood! Adapt This!

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