Among the worst bits of news I’ve heard in the last couple of weeks was this little nugget: Universal Pictures has pulled the plug on Guillermo Del Toro’s adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness. This after it was announced earlier on Monday that ATMOM would begin shooting in June with Tom Cruise starring! What in the name of the Elder Gods is going on here?
Word is the studio balked at the $150 million price tag and planned hard-R rating. Seriously? $150 million is not a lot to ask in this day and age. And R-rated movies can make money; they just have to be good (See Terminator 2: Judgment Day, 300 – heck, even The Hangover!). But no worries there: Del Toro don’t make no junk! We’re talking about a director who knows his way away around fantasy projects; most people probably know him for Hellboy and Hellboy II: The Golden Army, but Del Toro is the auteur behind the 2006 instant-classic Mexican horror film Pan’s Labyrinth, and the truly creepy The Devil’s Backbone (2001) – making him the perfect director for this material. In order to be true to Lovecraft’s original story, the movie would have to be heavy on atmosphere, as opposed to having “frights” pop out at you every few minutes. The director needs to be able to create and sustain an atmosphere of foreboding that builds and builds and builds over the course of the film. Del Toro could pull this off without breaking a sweat.
A classic story of isolation and dread, ATMOM is one of my favorite Lovecraft tales. It follows a group of scientists, led by geologist William Dyer (Cruise), sent to Antarctica to find out what happened to a previous expedition that mysteriously disappeared. Once they reach the frigid wastes at the bottom of the world, Dyer and his team discover not only indications that their predecessors met untimely and violent ends, they uncover the bizarre ruins of a strange and complex civilization that predated the rise of humans. A civilization that was decidedly not human!
Sadly, Del Toro was in the news last year in connection with another troubled production, the adaptation of The Hobbit. The project appeared doomed to languish in a legal morass forever, so Del Toro decided to jump ship and develop ATMOM. Of course, no sooner was Del Toro off the J.R.R. Tolkien adaptation than it was suddenly greenlighted, and Peter Jackson agreed to take the directing reins. Look for that flick in 2012.
Del Toro has noted that ATMOM has been gestating with his production company for some 13 years, and remains a passion project with him, so let’s hope he returns to it. Del Toro is apparently circling another fantasy project, one called Pacific Rim, which promises monsters and a teen-friendlyPG-13 rating. Go make your money, then come back to us, Guillermo, before we all go crazy!