By Eleanor Winn
In 2011, Warner Brothers announced that they were beginning production on a 3D film of Milton’s Paradise Lost. Bradley Cooper was cast as Satan, and several other high profile actors were recruited. However, in February the next year, when pre-production was well underway, the film was dropped indefinitely. The film company blamed high production costs for the decision, but perhaps the real reason lies in the poem itself. Paradise Lost is famously hard to visualize for the reader, and this is apparent when Milton describes the ‘Chaos’ that separates Heaven, Hell and Earth as consisting of ‘neither sea, nor shore, nor air, nor fire,/ But all these in their pregnant causes mixed’. The characters themselves are often equally insubstantial, an example being the figure of God, who never appears in person, but merely speaks from atop ‘a flaming mount, whose top/ Brightness had made invisible’. It becomes clear from descriptions such as these that Milton did not intend his setting or characters to be seen. One reason for this is that, according to the poet’s orthodox theology, angels were incarnate spirits having only intellect and will, and representing them as physical beings was theologically inaccurate.
Whilst describing the Battle in Heaven, the angel Raphael voices Milton’s difficulty by proclaiming:
‘for how shall I relate
To human sense the invisible exploits
Of warring spirits?’
It is easy, then, to see why Warner Brothers began to question the wisdom of the project: a film consisting of unimaginable characters within an abstract, inexpressible landscape is unlikely to be a box office success – even with Bradley Cooper as the lead.