Sunday, 25 July 2010

The Madness of Guillermo

Guillermo del Toro made surprise appearance at this week's Comic-Con convention in San Diego announcing his involvement in Walt Disney's planned reboot of THE HAUNTED MANSION. THE HAUNTED MANSION reboot, like its 2003 Rob Minkoff directed predecessor, will be based on the Disney theme park attraction. In that sense it extends the studio's continued reliance on branded concept feature films (Pirates of the Caribbean, The Sorcerer's Apprentice). Minkoff's version of The Haunted Mansion cost $90 million and underwhelmed by attracting negative reviews and grossing less than it cost to produce. As we're living through a time where feature films in general are bereft of original ideas, it comes as no surprise Disney will be remaking THE HAUNTED MANSION only eight years after Minkoff's turgid interpretation. What is surprising is Guillermo del Toro's involvement with the feature as I have always thought him a cinematic trailblazer who would shun the prospect of making a movie that is so obviously an exercise in promoting Disney's sideshow ride, while also eschewing the risk of producing original works not based on preconceived gimmicks. Guillermo del Toro renounced the opportunity to direct THE HOBBIT, therefore (even though he hasn't yet signed on to direct THE HAUNTED MANSION reboot officially and may only just write and produce) it's bemusing he hasn't chosen to make a movie that's atypical of what's largely on offer in a conventional sense.

Guillermo del Toro is a hugely talented filmmaker who is equally inventive visually as he is thematically. His movies are rich with ideas and subtext, constantly pushing notions of what can be achieved through the medium of horror. A problem I find with the current Guillermo del Toro brand is the way in which he's become attached to a multiplicity of projects without seeing them through to fruition. An example of this is Guillermo del Toro's long gestating adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's 1931 novella AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS, which some people were hoping his surprise appearance at Comic-Con this week would finally confirm. It's a project the director has been developing since the 1990s, but remains merely a tantalising prospect than a tangible actuality. Guillermo del Toro said last month, "[AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS] is exactly the movie I would like to do; it would push buttons, and it's extreme in many areas. It's a hard R-rated, big production tentpole in the genre of horror." This statement alone makes me wonder why on earth Guillermo del Toro is wasting time on THE HAUNTED MANSION remake when he could try harder to get AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS rolling. I have talked in the past about how the horror genre has seriously lost its way with studios reluctant to greenlight horror projects as a result of tepid audience appetite for the slew of substandard products released over the last 5 years. Del Toro alludes to Hollywood's reluctance regarding the production of tentpole horror movies, the kind of which was big business in the 70s and 80s. Movies like The Exorcist, The Omen, Alien, The Shining and The Thing were expensive horror movies designed for adult consumption. They had sophisticated stories and presented mature characters in convincing ways; striving to negotiate the horror elements they're confronted with. The current understanding of commissioning executives in Hollywood is horror films are the realm of young audiences and that if the core demographic is shunning contemporary horror films then they're simply not worth making. That's a shame because the tentpole horror movies I've mentioned above were major releases and continue to be discussed for their creative brilliance.

The chance of AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS getting made is even slimmer now than what they were circa 1995 when Dreamworks acquired the project for Del Toro: although the director says, "[He]self-financed the designs and maquettes and everything [to do with the film]." It doesn't seem Universal Pictures, the new rights holders, were ever seriously interested in making AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS and was keener on a namesake association with Del Toro. It doesn't take a film genius to figure Guillermo Del Toro is a masterful director whose Spanish-language horror films like Cronos, The Devil's Backbones and Pan's Labyrinth demonstrates why Hollywood shouldn't shoehorn him into just manufacturing comic book/ fantasy fodder. If Hollywood really wants to revive its horror genre projects then they could do a lot worse than greenlighting AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS. Then again, perhaps Guillermo del Toro could help himself by not jumping from processed fantasy film to processed fantasy film.

NB- Since writing this post Universal and James Cameron, in a producing capacity, has announced they will be making AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS as Guillermo Del Toro next directorial feature. The movie will be shot in 3D. Guillermo's in talks with Tom Cruise for the lead role. Yes, it had everything to do with me.

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