Friday, April 8, 2011

What could have been At the Mountains of Madness

One of the sadder news this year so far was the cancellation of production on Guillermo del Toro's At the Mountains of Madness. Since I am very much a fan of his work on Hellboy and Pan's Labyrinth I had been looking forward to this movie quite a bit. It was much more than just a consolation prize for Del Toro not directing The Hobbit anymore and it seems that the project meant a lot to him as well.

However, since we have such amazing things as the internet these days, production hell now no longer means that nobody will ever get to see any of the hard work that has already been done. That way fans might at least get a faint impression of what the movie could have been like.

A thing that bothered me was that Tom Cruise's name seemed to be fastly attached to the project. This may be disconnected from his acting abilities but I prefer to not feed a crazy scientologist if I can avoid it. Thus the project being stuck in production hell also frees me from this moral question.

On the other hand I can't really picture Tom Cruise as Dyer. Especially with Dyer being depicted as a young (25, wasn't he older in the book?) father-to-be, who is seduced into going onto the dangerous expedition even though he knows he should probably have stayed at home with his dear wife, I can't quite put Tom Cruise into this role. There are many younger actors who would be great for the part I'd imagine.

Another thing that might work against the production is its closeness to a well-known movie, which is "The Thing from Another World" (1951) and John Carpenter's "The Thing" (1982). Even moreso because, as far as I can tell, there's a prequel to "The Thing" planned for release in 2011.

The closeness between the two stories those movies are based on has already been pointed out many times before. The "Thing" movies are all based on John W. Campbell Jr.'s novella "Who Goes There?", which was first published in 1938. However, Lovecraft's "At the Mountains of Madness" was written in 1931 and published in 1936. Since Campbell was a science fiction fan and also an editor of a science fiction magazine, I think it's very likely that Campbell had read At the Mountains of Madness and took his inspiration from there.

The stories actually don't have so many things in common. The main things being: An expedition to antarctica, the finding of a being from outer space under the ice, the alien being attacking the expedition crew. There, that's about it. But At the Mountains of Madness goes further and puts this whole plot into the context of the Cthulhu mythos and sets the stage for a showdown between Elder Things and Shoggoths. And super creepy six foot tall albino penguins. One must of course keep in mind that the movie would have probably included more monsters than the original plot, which most likely won't sit well with the Lovecraft purists. Especially the mutating and shape-shifting Shoggoths have been expanded upon, which puts this incarnation of At the Mountains of Madness closer to The Thing than the original text.

Since Guillermo del Toro is extremely good at creating creatures for his movies I think he's as close as it gets for a "perfect" choice for this movie. His way of avoiding CGI as much as possible and often relying on prosthetics, masks or even full bodysuits for his actors to squeeze in create timeless movies that are still impressive years later. I have observed this in Lord of the Rings already, where a lot of work was done with miniatures and costumes. These scenes don't age as much as the CGI ones. Del Toro would have done a great unforgettable work and I would very much have liked to see Doug Jones as one of the creepy towering Elder Things.

The next project that del Toro seems to be doing now is a PG-13 monster movie named Pacific Rim. Even though I am happy that he is doing something, this sounds like a bad consolation prize, especially considering that del Toro wanted to cut no corners and make a good R-rated monster movie out of At the Mountains of Madness. I don't think we have had any like these in a while.

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