This past Monday, we learned that Universal had passed on Guillermo del Toro’s adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness and there was much sadness in the movie geek world. Del Toro has now given an interview to Deadline and confirmed that with At the Mountains of Madness in limbo, he’s moving on to direct the PG-13 monster movie Pacific Rim for Legendary Pictures and he hopes to start shooting by September for a summer 2013 release date. But if you’re wondering what happened with Mountains, which charts an expedition to the Antarctic that uncovers terrible monsters, and where the adaptation goes from here, then hit the jump del Toro’s explanation.
At the Mountains of Madness was supposed to get a yes-or-no answer from Universal by the end of last year, but the process continued to drag on for months. del Toro is confused as most people by the late decision and how far pre-production went:
Since the day of the decision, I haven’t had a face to face with [Universal execs Donna Langley and Adam Fogelson]. We’ve exchanged a few phone calls. I my mind, we were given the parameters of a budget and screenplay, and I was given the chance by the studio to create a visual presentation. They were blown away by the visual presentation, they openly admitted to loving the screenplay, saying it was dead on. And we hit the target on the budget they gave us, not a figure I arrived at. This came after months and months of story boarding, haggling with VFX companies, and bringing down the budget number. The week before the decision, I was scouting in the border of Canada and Alaska. We were a week away from opening offices in Toronto. We were crewed up, and frankly, I am as puzzled as most people are. One of the biggest, biggest points for me with this movie was the scope and the R, going hand in hand.
Del Toro tells Deadline that the studio pushed for an R-rating, but he believed it wasn’t possible simply due to the intensity. If it sounds strange that a movie with no crass language or intense gore should have difficulty getting a PG-13, del Toro explains that he’s run into the same situation with Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, which he co-wrote and produced and received an R-rating because of its intensity:
Ultimately, I think the MPAA could rule the movie PG-13 because the movie and the book are not gory. If that is the outcome, fine. But I don’t want to put the PG-13 on paper, for one reason. We created Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, thinking we would be safe looking for PG-13 because we had no profanity, no sex, no gore, but we made a very intense movie in a very classical mold. And the MPAA gave it an R. They said the movie was too intense for a PG-13. The only think I know about Mountains is, I do not want it to be bloody, I do not want it to be crass, but I want it to be as intense as possible. And those discussions were had in the open. Everyone knew this was my position, that I knew I was asking the chance for the movie to be what it needs to be. I don’t think it’s a good idea to relinquish that on paper.
As to the argument that marketing and brand-recognition are overpowering the creative side of filmmaking, del Toro agrees, but remains optimistic since he’s been given such freedom in the past:
Even if you go back to the golden days of monster movies at Universal, some of the best ones were sequels. To me, Bride of Frankenstein is in many ways superior to Frankenstein. I don’t think that in principle, a sequel or a spinoff or a movie that comes something, or a remake, should be shunned. What is really dramatic to me is that most decisions are now being taken by comps, and charts, and target quadrants. All these marketing things we inherited from a completely different system, in the 80s, it has taken hold of the entire industry. Marketers and accountants seem to be running things and less and less of the decisions are in the hands of filmmakers. There are still some filmmakers that can push through. I will say though, I count my blessings. In my time, I’ve been able to make impossible things like a big superhero movie starring Ron Perlman. Frankly, I think we’ve come so close with Mountains that to me it’s an indicator of the great possibility we will get to make it, as soon as possible. As long as the idea stays fresh and no one beats me to it, in terms of the origins of the monsters, the scope and the aspect of Antarctica where these creatures are discovered, I will continue to press forward.
And so where is forward for At the Mountains of Madness? Del Toro hopes that Universal puts the project into turnaround (meaning another studio could acquire the project but del Toro doesn’t relinquish all of the pre-production work he put in, which presumably Universal owns since they paid for it), but it’s not likely to happen overnight:
We would have needed first to get the formal terms of turnaround from Universal before we could formally get an answer from another studio. We were gauging interest and there was interest, very serious interest, but nothing that could happen before Universal names the terms in which they would allow us to try and set it up somewhere else. That is my hope right now that they just allow us to seek a home for this. It will remain a timely premise for years to come, so I don’t have to do it next month. I know it’s not an easy proposition. It is, if you have faith. I think a studio needs to fully believe in that. Certainly, in the last year, you can find movies of that scope or bigger that have been green lit on a wing and a prayer. We are part of show business, and it seems the business side takes more and more command of things, and the show part of the business seems to be dwindling. It’s a sign of the times, in a way.
So let’s not write the epitaphs of Guillermo del Toro’s At the Mountains of Madness just yet. Much like the wretched Shoggoths of H.P. Lovecraft’s novella, it dwells beneath the surface, waiting to be unleashed.