Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Battle of the Pyramids

If you could make a movie on any subject, novel, play, or historical event, what would it be? Inspired by a novel I read recently set during Napoleon's 1798 invasion of Egypt and by the stunningly exotic image of French infantry squares pitted against hordes of Mameluke cavalry charging across the desert with the Pyramids of Giza as a backdrop (as depicted above) - I would love to see a sweeping historical epic about this event.

Troops in an alien land. The invasion of a desert country. Fighting insurgents in the streets of a Muslim city. The contemporary parallels are obvious. Also, a grand chance for an up and coming actor to play the young Napoleon. The novel I read - Napoleon's Pyramids, by William Dietrich - is much like an Indiana Jones adventure full of cliffhangers and action. The protagonist, Ethan Gage, is an American opportunist who dabbles in science and solves riddles of antiquity much like Benjamin Franklin Gates (Nic Cage; Gates - Cage - Gage! Ah, ha!) in National Treasure and Robert Langdon in The Da Vinci Code. He is also a crack shot with his custom-made flintlock rifle and he is an inveterate Casanova. The publisher bills him as "our Indiana Jones-like hero," but one character refers to him as "a dilettante, a hanger-on, a dabbler, a wanderer." In a movie verion, Robert Downey, Jr. would be the perfect actor to fill the role of Ethan Gage.

Told in the first person with a style similar to Henry Fielding's Tom Jones, Napoleon's Pyramids covers Gage's adventures in battle and bed with vivid historical detail and a very entertaining sense of humor. In the sequel, The Rosetta Key, Gage witnesses Napoleon's 1799 invasion of the Holy Land and participates in the discovery of the Rosetta Stone. An episode set in the ancient ruins of Petra seems blatantly borrowed from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. In the latest installment, The Dakota Cipher, he travels across the Great Lakes to the Dakotas in 1800 with a Norseman searching for Thor's hammer.

All three novels are very well researched, especially the military history, and although they involve too many secret doorways and forgotten underground chambers, as in National Treasure: Book of Secrets, and include yawn-inducing cataloguing of the rites and beliefs of the Masons and the Templar Knights, as in Dan Brown's books, the vivid prose (unusual for a Da Vinci Code spinoff series), humor, history, and action, both military and of the amorous kind, keep you engaged throughout.

An adaptation of Napoleon's Pyramids would make a fun adventure movie, but I'd prefer to see an epic depiction of Napoleon's invasion of Egypt, the Battle of the Pyramids, and the Battle of the Nile, in which Lord Nelson's navy destroyed Napoleon's navy and trapped Napoleon in Egypt.

(Painting by Louis Lejeune. Click to enlarge.)

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