Saturday, 12 March 2011
When ‘R’isky Movies Attack
Question: What do Paul Verhoeven's blood drenched battle epic Crusade, Martin Scorsese's period gangster flick The Irishman and Oliver Stone's controversial dramatisation of the brutal My Lai Massacre Pinkville all have in common?
Answer: They are all hugely anticipated movie projects, largely violent in content, which almost got made but stumbled at the last minute due to studios getting cold feet and withdrawing their support, fearing the films too risky to greenlight.
Mountains was ready to start filming this summer but Universal Pictures crushed it this week by informing del Toro they felt uncomfortable investing $150 million on an R-rated esoteric monster movie. It was another blow to del Toro's already fraught efforts to realise his dream project, initially having planned to film the movie in 1998 when Dreamworks optioned the adaptation rights for the director. The project has since fumbled along, bouncing from Dreamworks to Universal. (Del Toro had in fact been actively developing Mountains independently since 1993.)
After bailing on The Hobbit due to studio inconsistencies, del Toro announced last summer that his next project will finally be Mountains. Universal was keen to associate itself with the visionary director and encouraged him to package it together. (The New Yorker suggests that del Toro was in fact fired from The Hobbit in order to facilitate Peter Jackson as director who had wanted to redeem his filmmaking career after making flops King Kong and The Lovely Bones.)
The conditions were set. Don Murphy and Susan Montford were brought in to produce the picture. James Cameron, having just come off Avatar, signed on to exec produce and Tom Cruise was in final negotiations to come on board to star in the lead role of William Dyer (although the studio was initially pushing for the younger James McAvoy as he had starred in Universal's successful action film Wanted). James Cameron even sat in on creative meetings with del Toro at Universal where he convinced the director to lens the film with the same 3D technology he utilised on Avatar. This was a project where all the essential elements were cosmically aligned ― all they needed was the studio greenlight.
That optimism went to seed this week. In an e-mail to Daniel Zalewski last Monday, del Toro wrote: "Madness has gone dark. The 'R' did us in." Bizarrely this confirmation of cancellation on Mountains came shortly after producer Don Murphy had mistakenly informed io9 that filming was scheduled to begin in June but he later retracted his comments. (Does anyone in the film industry know what they are doing?)
It seems the suits at Universal were seriously uncomfortable with del Toro wanting to make the film for $150 million and insisting that his contract include the finished movie be allowed permission to risk an R-rating. Deadline reported that despite a stunning visual presentation that met the studio's budget specifications, Universal just couldn't risk banking so much money on a largely unknown period horror property that could prove to be a hard sell to mainstream audiences.