In 1931, H.P. Lovecraft‘s tale “At the Mountains of Madness”, which tells of an Antarctic expedition led by Miskatonic University’s Dr. William Dyer, was initially rejected by the storytelling gatekeepers of his time, ie fiction magazine editors. More than 70 years later and with Lovecraft’s works in the public domain, visionary writer/director Guillermo del Toro attempted to bring At the Mountains of Madness to life as a big-scale, R-rated horror movie, but met the same fate as the story’s author when his idea was rejected by studios.
Unfortunately, little has changed in the decade or so since del Toro’s began trying to get the green light for the movie, except for the fact that he’s a little older and a little wiser when it comes to Hollywood wheeling and dealing. In a recent chat with Perri Nemiroff for Collider Nightmares, del Toro revisited his history with At the Mountains of Madness and revealed what he’s learned about creative currency vs literal currency in the movie world.
Way back in 2010, he said:
It’s very difficult for a studio to take the step of doing an R-rated tentpole movie with a tough ending and no love story, set in period, from a writer, Lovecraft, who has a readership as big as any bestseller but cannot be quantified because his works are in the public domain.
Unfortunately, that’s the same story for At the Mountains of Madness today, but del Toro did share some information about the film’s extensive pre-production work:
One day, I’ll show you the art, I’ll show you everything we did. We did over 300 pieces of art, we did storyboards, we did models … we had a whole presentation. You will cry, you will go, “Why?”
A lot of the confusion surrounding the difficulties in getting At the Mountains of Madness made is that fans seem to think del Toro, and directors like him, have more decision-making power than they actually do:
A lot of people think of directors like Caesar sitting on a chaise lounge like somebody feeding them grapes, and you say, “I would like to do Mountains of Madness now.” And it’s not. You’re a blue collar guy working your way, putting numbers in front of studios, putting [together] stars, packages, whatever, and you have your stuff to move. That’s why I tried to do a small movie and a big movie, because the small movies, you suffer with the budget, but you have complete freedom; you can do whatever you want. That gives you a line.
Del Toro learned this lesson the hard way:
We thought we had a very good, safe package. It was $150 [million], Tom Cruise and James Cameron producing, ILM doing the effects, here’s the art, this is the concept, because I really think big-scale horror would be great … but there was a difference of opinion; the studio didn’t think so. The R [rating] was what made it. If Mountains had been PG-13, or I had said PG-13 … I’m too much of a Boy Scout, I should have lied, but I didn’t.