Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Guillermo Del Toro Roundtable: Unfinished Projects

Individual Reviews are useful, but criticism is a dialogue, not a monologue. I’m Max O’Connell of The Film Temple, he’s Loren Greenblatt of Screen Vistas, and we’ve got some things to say in the Guillermo Del Toro Roundtable.

Loren Greeblatt: So, Guillermo Del Toro has a lot of things on his plate. Pacific Rim is his first film in five years, but he hasn’t been sitting on his ass. Right after Hellboy II, he was going to direct The Hobbit, but there were a bunch of catastrophes, like MGM collapsing. He basically spent a year and a half waiting for this thing to start, but finally said that it was going to take too much of his life, so he left it to Peter Jackson to direct.

Max O’Connell: He still has co-writing credits, though we can’t really blame him for how mixed we were on the film. It’s really Jackson’s problem that it’s so all over the place. Meanwhile, Del Toro has a bunch of other projects, and that’s not including his planned Pacific Rim sequel if the film is a hit. Hey, dude, finish Hellboy III first.

LG: The status of Hellboy III is sadly in limbo. Because of “mediocre” box office returns on the last one, he really needs to push to get it made. Lately he's been saying the prospect is looking grim, but he is trying and the recent partnership with his Pacific Rim producer Thomas Tull and Universal Pictures (who currently owns the rights) is a good sign. But he still needs someone to sign over the cash, and apparently he feels that this third film would need to be a lot more expensive than the first two because of the apocalypse he wants to show. In terms of projects that are actually happening, a few years ago he co-wrote a trilogy of horror books with Chuck Hogan called The Strain. I’ve read part of the first one. It’s a bit of a mishmash of a lot of Del Toro elements- vampirism as an outbreak, the American version of the villain from Cronos, some fairytale elements, and an amazing set-piece on an airplane, but the human drama is terrible. It’s the reason I stopped reading.

MO: Del Toro is also directing the pilot of a TV-series adaptation that debuts on FX hopefully this year. It’ll star Ron Perlman, Corey Stoll (Hemingway in Midnight in Paris), Kevin Durand (Lost, Cosmopolis). I’m hopeful. Right now he's gearing up his Pacific Rim follow up, a small-scale horror film that he’ll hopefully be able to knock out quickly. It’s called Crimson Peak, and it’s a haunted house film that’s a modern horror film that’s classical, set-oriented, and a throwback to films that don’t get made anymore because of found footage. His influences are The Omen, The Exorcist, and The Shining, all of which I love, the last of which is my pick for the scariest movie ever made (with The Exorcist being not too far behind).

LG: I haven't been exactly sure what to make of this, but recently he's stated that he considers this film to be akin to his more adult oriented Spanish Language films. So expect this to be in the Pan's Labyrinth mode, but in English.

MO: The cast includes Charlie Hunnam from Sons of Anarchy and Pacific Rim, Jessica Chastain, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mia Wasikowska…not exactly lightweights, though I really hope Hunnam decides to actually act this time around.

LG: But for every project that Del Toro makes, there are many that don't make it like Mefisto's Bridge or that Western retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo called Left Hand  of Darkness. After Mimic he pitched an idea for Exorcist IV which would have involved Father Merrin investigating an occult murder at the Vatican during WWII (Spoiler Alert: The Devil did it), but the studio didn't want it because it would have ended with an exorcism and the studio felt that was the reason Exorcist III didn't make any money. They wanted Exorcist IV, but they didn't want to have any exorcisms in it.

MO: That is the stupidest thing I've ever heard.

LG: Yes it is. But Hollywood is full of people saying 'no' for dumb reasons.  The most high-profile unmade Del Toro film is At the Mountains of Madness, based on the H.P. Lovecraft novelette. Del Toro has a major thing for classic horror and Lovecraft, and has inserted references throughout his filmography. He wants to do it as a tentpole horror, citing The Thing as the kind of thing he's going for.

MO: The problem is that it would be very expensive, and it’d have to be rated R. You can’t go PG-13 on this, and he was insistent on that.

LG: Del Toro went through this problem on his produced-written film Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, which wasn’t very graphic but the MPAA rated it R for being too scary. Del Toro had some big guns on  Mountains - Tom Cruise was going to star, and James Cameron was going to produce it right after Avatar.

MO: It came close to happening- the script was done, Matthew Robbins was his co-writer, and the creatures were half-designed. But Universal got cold feet at the very last second.

LG: Then Del Toro got nervous because it turns out Ridley Scott’s Prometheus had a lot it common, but he’s talked about doing it since then. If Pacific Rim is a hit, he’ll get the chance.

MO: That’s what I’m hoping for- Pacific Rim is a big enough hit overseas that he gets to make this, and then he makes Hellboy III, damn it.

LG: We will see anything he does so long as it is At the Mountains of Madness or Hellboy III.

MO: He’s done a lot of production work, playing godfather to talented young horror directors, most notably the very good film The Orphanage by Juan Antonio Bayona. And Del Toro executive-produced Splice, which I was mixed on but has things going for it.

LG: He produced Rodrigo y Cursi, directed by Alfonso Cuaron’s brother. He’s also on pre-production of a stop-motion Pinocchio film that he’ll co-direct. Tough that could still end up in the unmade category as stop-motion is at a low point for audience favor, which is unfortunate because I really loved ParaNorman and we both like Coraline.

MO: I’m hoping that it gets made, because Del Toro’s love for outsiders and dark fairytales would really work there.

LG: And then there’s the projects we don’t know will happen. He’s doing a Frankenstein movie for Universal, but we don’t know when it’s going to happen or if. He wants Doug Jones and Benedict Cumberbach to star, and he wants it to be a Miltonian Tragedy and adventure film that plays up the religious and tragic elements.

MO: Sounds beautiful, let’s just see it. Some of his influences are on Karloff’s sense of tragedy and Christopher Lee’s sense of emptiness, and he wants to combine those characteristics. He’s also influenced by Frank Darabont’s original script that was unfortunately made into a terrible movie by Kenneth Branagh.

LG: He’s also working on an adaptation of Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five.

MO: Vonnegut has not really been a good source for films. George Roy Hill’s adaptation of that novel has fans…

LG: I've seen bit's of it over the years, it is just okay.

MO: While Keith Gordon directed an adaptation of Mother Night that has fans, and Jonathan Demme made an enjoyable adaptation of Vonnegut’s short story “Who Am I This Time?” for TV. But every other Vonnegut film is pretty much terrible. Slapstick was terribly adapted into a Jerry Lewis movie,  the film of Breakfast of Champions went straight-to-video and is really bad, and there’s a short film of “Harrison Bergeron” called 2081 that gets the tone completely wrong by being portentous rather than satirical and playful. I feel Del Toro’s would be closer to the tone, at least, but it’d be a difficult adaptation.

LG: The fantasy/reality elements of the book might be interesting with him, but I don’t know if he could do it well unless he changed things that would annoy Vonnegut purists. (NOTE: since we recorded this, it has been announced that Del Toro is pursuing Charlie Kaufman to write the script. This makes a lot of sense as Slaughterhouse-Five really requires someone who is naturally adept with unusual plot structures of the kind that Del Toro has never even tired. Kaufman has written some of the most unusual scripts to come out of Hollywood in the last decade and a half)

MO: He also planned on adapting Drood, based on the novel by Dan Simmons that’s itself based off an unfinished Charles Dickens novel. It’s a bit of a murder mystery having to with an opium addict and an uncle in love with his nephew’s fiancée, I believe. Could be interesting, and I understand Simmons’ book incorporates stuff that has to do with Dickens’ life. It’s planned with Universal, but we’ll see if it happens.

LG: There’s something called Saturn and the End of Days, which is about a boy walking back and forth to the supermarket and seeing the end of the world on the way. It’s an original project, which have historically been an amazing sign, but his original scripts take a long time to get made.

MO: He’s planning on producing a new adaptation of the Disney Ride The Haunted Mansion, let’s just forget about the terrible Eddie Murphy version.

LG: We already did.

MO: Well put. This is to be based on the Hatbox Ghost, one of the more obscure ghosts in the attraction, which was there when the ride premiered in the late '60's, and it was supposed to be very frightening. I’ve been on the ride a few times, and I’ve never seen this thing because it was taken out fairly early in its run.

LG: At one point he was planing to do a trilogy of videogames, and he wants to be the “Citizen Kane of games”, but the developer for that went bankrupt. He was planning on producing an Incredible Hulk TV show, and he was waiting for an unspecified famous writer to be available, but we’re not sure if this could happen anymore after Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk became so well-liked.

MO: He’s also planning on another show he’s producing for HBO. It’s called Monster, it’s based off a manga. Neither of us are manga guys, and we don’t know what this is, but it has his name on it, so we’re interested. If it gets made.

LG: That’s the key clause. He also wants to direct a segment of the planned third Heavy Metal movie, and he loves the original incarnation of the French comic that Moebius curated, not the ugh-worthy thing most people are familiar with these days. But we don’t know what’s going on with this thing. I know Robert Rodriguez is godfathering this.

MO: He was planning on producing a new Van Helsing movie with Tom Cruise starring, but we’ll see. He’s producing a new Beauty and the Beast, though there’s so many of those. And then there’s the ones we know that’ll never happen. He wanted to direct new versions of Stephen King’s novels Pet Sematary (King's misspelling, not ours) and It. The former was made into a pretty-OK film in 1989, the latter into a cheesy miniseries mitigated by Tim Curry’s performance in 1990. He could do both of those, but he’s booked pretty solid.

LG: He has a Justice League Dark  thing planned, with misfits of the DC Universe that'd be headed up by John Constantine (who had that slightly underrated Keanu Reeves in 2005), Swamp Thing, and the Specter, among others. It’d be Warner Bros., He claims that it's still very active, waiting for the availability of a “big writer,” but WB would certainly be doing the regular Justice League movie first, and that's not coming out anytime soon.

MO: Basically, we’re worried about when Del Toro sleeps, but we’re excited to see anything he does.

LG: There are things we want more than others, but if he makes it, I’ll be first in line. He is truly one of the most interesting auteurs out there.

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