The Onscreen Epic of Gilgamesh!
The On-Screen Epic of Gilgamesh
J.C. Maçek III
Dr. T. Du Bose
The On-Screen Epic of Gilgamesh
In order to undertake a project of this epic magnitude, one must first consider the many differing ways the film could take hold. The Epic of Gilgamesh is an age old story whose main attractions will be its originality and antiquity. To cash in properly on Gilgamesh we must focus on bringing out the idea of Gilgamesh predating similar stories, casting actors who will capture the characters’ mannerisms while still being easy to relate to, and using optimal special effects to combat the preconceived notions an audience may have about movies of this kind (thanks to the likes of Kevin Sorbo and Steve Reeves).
Primarily the idea is to keep Gilgamesh pure. Naturally, after seeing my Hamlet, moviegoers will have ideas about what to expect from the introduction of a pre-classical work into main stream theater. Likely viewers and critics alike will be expecting an updating, or out and out displacement of the sequence of events in time. However, while we certainly cannot go line for line with the text, we must keep Gilgamesh loyal to the original tablets, and as close to Sumerian dress, language, and culture as we can simulate.
To preserve the storytelling style of the epic’s author(s), I plan to employ a narrator to guide the action. A recognizable, intelligent, regal, and yet not overpowering voice should be chosen. This voice should give an air of importance to the narration without being so enthralling that the action is missed. I plan to seek out such Englishmen as Patrick Stewart, Sir Ian Mckellan, Sir Anthony Hopkins, and John Geilgud, and to offer them the opportunity of auditioning for this essential role. The selected actor’s voice will begin and end the film, while covering breaks in the action and explaining confusing sections of the story.
The casting of the actual blocking actors is a bit more problematic. Gilgamesh himself is the most challenging character to play in this work. Gilgamesh should be strong (without evoking images of Kull the Conqueror, or Conan the Barbarian), and youngish, but with a weathered look to imply warriors traits. The actor must present the narcissistic nihilism of the early Gilgamesh and, later on, display the more humbled, post-anagnorosis Gilgamesh. For this range of whimsical egotism, to brooding, driven force, we should rely on the talents of Mel Gibson. Gibson gives a full range of acting abilities while looking weathered, and charming at the same time. Gibson’s name would also lend credibility to a project many might dismiss as sword and sorcery. After his showing in Braveheart the audience would easily be able to see him as a non-Schwartzenegger swashbuckler.
The character of Enkidu is almost of equal importance to this film. The original idea was to have Gibson play both parts. This seemed to make the most sense seeing as how Enkidu is the mirror of Gilgamesh in allegedly every way. The problem arose however when we considered the cinematic precedents of this idea. Once again this is to be a serious film, and we are attempting to get as far away from sword-and sorcery camp as humanly possible. The film is to be as didactic as the original text (if possible). Looking at what Gibson’s playing of both roles might mean to the audience led us to the recent example of Jean-Claude Van Damme playing twins, and on back to Hailey Mills in The Parent Trap. The thought of our epic being compared with either held little appeal for us, and the idea was therefor dismissed. Bearing the concepts of the twin motif being prevalent in the minds of moviegoers we elected to go an alternate route, forsaking even the idea of finding a similar looking actor to take the part. In stead I spoke to character actor Tony Todd, who has starred in The Crow, Candyman, and several episodes of different Star Trek series. Todd will be equipped with a long sable wig, and several other physical affectations to make him seem more animalistic. Todd’s voice is a grunting, fearsome one that will lend an air of wildness to Enkidu’s character.
Possibly the easiest character to cast was that of Ishtar. Ishtar must be beautiful, but sinister in a way that is not seen with your basic trash femme fatales. Our Ishtar is to be a wicked trickster figure with a streak of benevolence and sexiness. The obvious choice was Famke Janssen. After her stint as a Bond girl she made the perfect divine bad girl with a twist. Still she must be shown as one emanation of Ishtar. She must be weathered, and real, not overly Hollywood, as she is generally seen.
There seems no easy way to treat the character of the harlot Shamhat. Nineties audiences would hardly be receptive to the idea that Shamhat is actually a priestess of some kind, and that the week long sex scene with Enkidu is actually intended to be a cleansing and redeeming experience. Judeo-Christian value would creep in during judgment of this scene, and most would dismiss it as pornographic. The very use of the term “harlot” would likely turn a viewer off much like a continuing story on Monica Lewinsky. For this reason we feel that a scene should be added including Gilgamesh, the trapper, and Shamhat, during which the two men request her help in the approach of Enkidu. We feel that if it were to be Shamhat’s idea to seduce Enkidu, this would show her as a strong self sufficient priestess with a mind of her own, not a shameless prostitute. Keeping this in mind, we would want to keep her look real, rather than glamorous. Attractive, with an air of professionalism. For this part we have chosen actress Alice Krige.
In a picture of such immense scope special effects are very important! Lucasfilm’s Industrial Light and Magic has already been contacted, as well as Jim Henson’s creature shop to handle many of the god images, as well as the many creatures seen in the text of Gilgamesh such as the scorpion beings. Computer generated imagery is a necessity, and the CGI must be top of the line. The flood must be convincing enough for any audience to buy it, particularly since our plan is to have sunlight surrounding the boat at all times after the rain subsides. No darkness will hide any errors made, so no errors will be allowed.
The biggest problem that we have faced is the incredible size of this story. How can we do justice to the script in two to three hours. The answer is: we don’t. Our plan is to create a series. Obviously the content is unsuitable for television, and commercial breaks would scarcely have a place in the epic. We therefor have elected to release this film in three different two hour installments. The first installment will deal with the creation and seduction of Enkidu, all the way to his death. The tone changes for the next installment which deals with Gilgamesh’s new quest, and the story of the flood. The third will deal with the descent into the underworld, and Gilgamesh’s eventual maturity. These are not to be seen as a trilogy, rather they will be released one per month for three months, evoking images of the Saturday matinee. This idea is long overdue, and with the current rise in interest in action of this sort, what better way to initiate this resurfacing of an old idea?
Each episode begins with a camera rush from the sky, over the ground and resting on a representation of the Temple in Uruk. Using actual images of Gilgamesh which have survived from ancient Sumer, the voice-over will begin by filling in what has happened before, in correspondence with the images. The action will begin as the camera leaves the temple’s interior and races over the credits to join Gilgamesh.
With several of the major artistic concerns outlined above, the only thing left to discuss is what will bring the crowd in to see our feature: the trailer. Using the same rapid camera rush throughout the heaven’s, the chosen voice actor will say (accompanied by the written words popping on and off the screen rapidly in hard stone looking letters: “Before Noah built his ark… Before Hercules tamed the Hydra… Before the Roman Empire… Before there was a name for “hero”… there was Gilgamesh!” The camera will then find and rest on Mr. Gibson, dressed seemingly for battle. The theme music (fast paced horn and timpani oriented music composed by Shirley Walker) will then strike up as various scenes from the film assault the screen. We envision the scorpion-beings, the “Bull of Heaven”, the descent of Ishtar from the sky to the seduction of Gilgamesh, a scene of Todd and Krige locked in an embrace, a haggard hero on the deck of the “ark”, a determined Gilgamesh descending into the underworld, and many other fast paced scenes. The screen will then go black as Ishtar’s voice cuts through in an evil laugh, “Gilgamesh, be you my husband.” The title will then flood the screen in the same gray stone font, as the chosen voice-actor says, “The Epic of Gilgamesh… earth’s first action hero!” The release date will then replace the title, and the revelry will cease.
To create The Epic of Gilgamesh for the large screen, casting, special effects, pacing, advertising, narration, and cinematography are all important issues. To do justice to the original text, the epic must be split up into three parts, and left almost completely intact. Small changes must be made to the text to accommodate different attitudes from the time of ancient Sumer to today. Essentially however, The Epic of Gilgamesh is a story that has survived for millennia, and no drastic altering should take place. For all its length this epic is complete, and needs no improvement.