Guillermo del Toro has become a hugely popular figure to fans of horror and fantasy films. Del Toro loves to look at the horrific side of fantasy, probably best exemplified by his Oscar nominated film Pan’s Labyrinth. Like most directors he has that one project which he considers his dream project. And also like most directors it seems to be the one that is the hardest for him to get off the ground. For del Toro that project is an adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s novel At the Mountains of Madness, a bleak tale of ancient creatures unearthed in Antarctica by a science excavation. That project is now finally within site as deadline.com reports that the King of the World himself, James Cameron, is producing the film to be shot in 3D.
Del Toro has been talking about this project for years, creating dreams in the minds of horror movie geeks everywhere. However he’s been just as open about how hard it would be to ever get it made as he was about how badly he wanted to make it. The entire thing is very bleak, there is no love story (in fact there is no female character at all,) and due to the nature of the creatures and events depicted there’s really no way to do it cheaply and have it work. Del Toro always knew this was going to be a very difficult film to get studio backing, but that would be the only way to get the resources needed to do it properly. While del Toro is well respected in the industry he doesn’t have the box office record to instill the confidence needed to get full backing to the project on his own.
For a while it had looked as though del Toro would use the heat from the planned two part film version of The Hobbit to get the backing he would need. However when that project stalled due to the financial woes of MGM Studios del Toro left the project and it made At the Mountains of Madness seem to slip away even further into some indefinite future. Del Toro had hinted that the project was closer than fans had thought when he said his next film after writing a new film version of Disney’s The Haunted Mansion was going to be “really scary.” It seemed too good to be true: how could the project finally have found traction? Well it found more than traction, it found a guardian angel in the form of James Cameron.
Following the phenomenon that was Avatar Cameron’s clout is more overpowering than ever before. That said he’s been notably stingy about lending his power to the productions of other people (the only other project with his backing is the 3D remake of Fantastic Voyage.) Cameron is possibly the biggest proponent of films being shot with 3D cameras so his involvement must have played some part in the choice to do the movie in 3D. One can’t help but wonder if the notion of doing At the Mountains in 3D was Cameron’s condition for backing the project or del Toro’s idea to lure in Cameron.
While counting his blessings that Cameron is on board for At the Mountains of Madness, del Toro might also want to write a thank you letter to Christopher Nolan. While Cameron’s backing was undoubtedly a huge impact on getting the project moved forward it’s hard to believe that the success of Inception didn’t help at least a little. On the face of it the projects are almost nothing alike, but that’s only in terms of the stories being told. What both films have in common is that they’re both passion projects that are not inherently commercial and require massive financial backing. The success of Inception has doubtlessly helped instill at least a little more confidence in visionary directors with unusual ideas.
Trying to bring Lovecraft to the big screen is a daunting task, and even though several of his works have been adapted it hasn’t really been done successfully yet. This is due in no small part to a lack of financial backing for Lovecraftian films. The closest that’s come to true realization of the horror master’s work was John Carpenter’s original but Lovecraft inspired At the Mouth of Madness (one guess where he got the title from.) Carpenter managed to get quite a few of Lovecraft’s concepts about unseen horrors and the power of evil books up on the screen but it didn’t completely work (plus some of the effects haven’t aged well.) Del Toro really is an ideal filmmaker to tackle the daunting task of realizing this cornerstone of Lovecraft’s Cthulu Mythos on the big screen. He’s already snuck a few Lovecraft inspired creatures into his Hellboy films and fans of fantastic horror are eager to see what he can do with the real thing.