Universal Kills 'At the Mountains', Del Toro Heading to 'Pacific Rim'
Let's start with one of del Toro's quotes: "I don't want to make a movie called At the Mountains of Madness. I want to make this movie. And if I cannot make this movie I'll do something else... It'll be horrible." Looks like that day has come. After leaving The Hobbit in order to pursue his dream of directing At the Mountains of Madness, for months I thought Universal had actually done right, they'd pulled together a dream project and it was going to turn out amazing. But as the months went by, it was obvious that one of the worst movie studios today hasn't changed at all. Instead, it looks like they're going to kill the project before it even starts.
Now before I get attacked for making outrageous claims, let's go over the basics on this project. Guillermo del Toro has been trying to adapt H.P. Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness for a very long time - most of his career. Last year, after Avatar was such a huge success, del Toro somehow convinced his friend James Cameron to join as producer and help them shoot in 3D. Though GdT has been setting up tons of other stuff at DreamWorks Animation, Disney and beyond, they've been pushing along, developing sets to convince the execs, even circling actor Tom Cruise, who was/is pretty much on-board. But Deadline now reports that Universal is still hung up on the R-rating and budget, so much so that it's likely del Toro will move on and direct the tentpole monster film Pacific Rim, for Legendary Pictures this summer, instead.
If there was ever one project to just bite the bullet and say screw it, let's just give them the $150 million they want at an R-rating and take a huge risk - this was it. They had Guillermo at the helm, Cameron producing, Cruise starring! Seriously, could it get any better than that? I don't think so. Now Deadline doesn't say this project is
dead (sadly it is), we're reading between the lines, but it's obvious Universal wanted a worse film (why go PG-13 just to stay PG-13?) and del Toro wanted to make what he wanted and they just didn't get it. HitFix also posted a story this afternoon with a quote from Mountains of Madness producer Don Murphy:
"We are all trying to get Mountains up and running with Tom and Jim and everybody but no start date has been set AT ALL."
But an exec closer to Rim responded saying, "the At the Mountains of Madness rumor is just Don Murphy beating the drum trying to force Uni's hand. Uni hasn't greenlit anything." This all began when io9 posted a couple out-of-context quotes this morning claiming that At the Mountains of Madness had finally been greenlit and was set to start shooting this June, but then Murphy proved that was not the case, as did that other executive. So reading between the lines here, it's obvious that Universal was struggling with del Toro's vision and instead of sitting there waiting, del Toro had to move on. And to show you how this was not just a fleeting decision for a filmmaker, I added that quote at the start to emphasize that if he ever did have to "do something else... it'll be horrible." And it looks like Universal put him in that "horrible" spot.
What I'm trying to emphasize here is that del Toro and Cameron and almost everyone involved were dead-set on shooting At the Mountains of Madness this year, but they were struggling to get Universal on-board with them. I've worked in this industry long enough to clearly recognize that Universal has been making lots of terrible decisions like this recently that really do hurt them in the long run. It's quite easy to see that they only think about tossing out shoddy PG-13 flicks, outrageously cutting budgets because they don't know how to take risks, and only making Taylor Lautner movies or Battleship adaptations, not genuinely brilliant passion-fueled projects like At the Mountains of Madness. Sure, they could get this going next year and all will be well, but I seriously doubt that'll happen, they're going to keep kicking this around forever. In fact, I ask them to prove me wrong. Give it the greenlight with Cameron, Guillermo, Cruise and that R-rating and I'll be very happy. But I bet that no one at Universal has the balls to do that.
Everything is still up in the air at the moment, and Deadline is saying that Guillermo might go shoot Pacific Rim for Legendary first this summer, then eventually go back to Mountains later. If you recall, Pacific Rim is an epic sci-fi script written by Travis Beacham (Clash of the Titans, Black Hole remakes) set in a future where malevolent creatures threaten the earth, and the planet must band together and use highly advanced technology to eradicate the growing menace. It's a PG-13 tentpole, but is said to have "big monsters and the creation of a new world." Its obvious that Legendary really wants del Toro - he's been linked to the Godzilla movie and even had shirts printed last year at Comic-Con with his signature. As always, Deadline states "it could very well be the next film del Toro directs" but can't report with certainty on this situation just yet.
I'm just trying to show why Universal is making one of the stupidest decisions in Hollywood. Even Deadline says: "Del Toro and his team have delivered a stunning visual presentation that met the studio's budget specifications, but I'm told the studio is still wary about the R rating and price." Unfortunately they don't have a single movie in these last three years that anyone can reference as an example of their cost-cutting working successfully, either in terms of the final quality of the film or resulting box office. But Deadline also adds that "the filmmakers are trying to salvage [a term mostly used when it's in the shitter] Mountains by placing it at another studio, and that behind the scenes drama is still playing out." Do I really need to be the one that must point out that it has gotten so bad, that even the filmmakers want to leave that studio?
Honestly, any studio is better than Universal, so I really hope they "salvage" this and set it up somewhere it actually belongs. So what is the best outcome for both of these projects? Guillermo makes a kick ass Pacific Rim movie first, then follows that with his long overdue At the Mountains of Madness, but at another studio that understands and believes in his passion and his vision. I will be crossing my fingers hoping for the best.
Update: I must sadly report that Guillermo has confirmed that At the Mountains of Madness is "dead." He replied in an email to The Criterion Cast stating, in response to a query about the start date, that the project has indeed gone in the opposite direction. "The opposite- Dead. – G" is all he wrote and all he needed to write. Other sites like Heat Vision have since confirmed that del Toro is moving on to direct Pacific Rim next, leaving Mountains of Madness. How the heck could a studio that claims to be so passionate about their films and filmmakers effectively kill del Toro's lifelong passionate project? One of the worst stories I've had to report on and of course, it's a Universal project. They killed BioShock previously, now this, what's next?