Joseph L. Mankiewicz's 1963 biopic Cleopatra cost $44 million ($320 million adjusted for inflation), ran four hours in length, and was largely overshadowed by the offscreen romance between leads Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. In a 2010 history of the production for Vanity Fair, John Lopez writes that the film's underwhelming gross "pushed 20th Century Fox so far to the brink of ruin that the studio had to sell off their massive backlot to developers who turned it into present day Century City."
48 years later, Hollywood is again trying to fashion the Egyptian's queen's life into a pricey biopic. This one is being produced by Scott Rudin and is scheduled to star Angelina Jolie. Deadline's Mike Fleming reports today that The Social Network's David Fincher is the top choice to direct. Why would these power players put their prestige on the line for a story that has already yielded one of the medium's most memorable fiascos?
Many reasons, says Fleming. There's Rudin's belief that Brian Helgeland's script is the "first telling of the Cleopatra story from a woman's perspective." Rather than "simply being a seductress" as she was in the 1963 version, this Cleopatra is multi-dimension, equal parts "shrewd politician, strategist and warrior, with sexual charisma to spare."
Fresh perspective on the behind-the-scenes political machinations of the Ptolemaic dynasty not enough? There's also the presence of Jolie in the title role. Fleming notes that not only is the role a "perfect fit" for her, she's also about "the only actress right now with the box office might to get such a large film financed." In this regard, she's kind of like Taylor, who became the first actress to break the million dollar salary threshold on the original.
One way it won't differ from the Taylor version: both will be presented in glorious 2-D. Plans for a 3-D version departed with James Cameron in December, when he decided for some reason that the Avatar sequel would be the safer bet.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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