How is this for a combination? Guillermo del Toro directing, James Cameron producing, and the ultimate A-lister, Tom Cruise, starring. Where do we sign up?
To think, we just about had that trifecta of Hollywood talent back in 2010. The project in question was the screen adaptation of Howard Phillips Lovecraft’s novella, At the Mountains of Madness. For del Toro, this was his dream project, one that he’d been working on for years.
Del Toro first had the project set up back in 2004 with DreamWorks, along with producers Susan Montford and Don Murphy. Del Toro co-wrote the script with Matthew Robbins, the pair having rewritten the piece a number of times.
When nothing came from the DreamWorks camp, Universal then acquired it in 2007, when they also took on del Toro’s Hellboy. Universal knew a good thing when they saw it (right?) and they were hoping to have del Toro be their cornerstone when it came to making movies.
Del Toro, though, shook Universal when he announced he accepted the offer to direct as well as co-write two installments of JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit. He would eventually drop out from those films because of the uncertainty surrounding the production’s start date. Although he walked away from the franchise, he still has writing credits for all three Hobbit films.
At the Mountains of Madness gained a second life in 2010 when Del Toro was able to convince Cameron to come aboard as producer. His name alone should help get the project off the ground, shouldn’t it? But the pièce de ré·sis·tance, in Del Toro’s mind, was nailing down Tom Cruise as the lead. Tom Cruise was said to be very enthusiastic to take on the role of narrator and leader of the expedition, William Dyer.
For those unfamiliar with Lovecraft’s story, At the Mountains of Madness follows a 1930s expedition to Antarctica. The story told from Dwyer’s point of view, describes the horrific events that unfolded once the group discovers ancient ruins. Dwyer’s reasoning to tell his tale was to be a warning to another larger and more important expedition set to go to Antarctica – don’t go.
As the story goes, Dwyer and his group ascend upon a specific area of Antarctica. A small, advanced group, led by Professor Lake, takes lead and discovers the remains of fourteen prehistoric life-forms, but they are unable to identify them as neither animals nor plants.
With Lake’s group now out of contact, Dwyer and the remaining group investigate. What they find is a camp destroyed and most of the men and dogs slaughtered. H.P. Lovecraft then takes his readers on a journey of ancient beings and an ancient civilization that are older than the human race. It is a horrific discovery, one that Dwyer is intent on stopping others from finding.
So, with all this firepower del Toro had, why did the film never see the light of day? One reason is that the famed director would not budge from keeping his film R-rated. The studios “in charge” desperately wanted del Toro to make it PG-13, but del Toro was having none of it.
Secondly, at the time del Toro was trying to get the film made, he was asking for a $150 million budget. An R-rated horror film with that big a price tag was not something studios were keen on producing. Even with del Toro, Cameron, and Tom Cruise.
“We thought we had a very good, safe package,” del Toro explains via Indiewire. “It was $150 [million], Tom Cruise and James Cameron producing, ILM doing the effects, here’s the art, this is the concept, because I really think big-scale horror would be great … but there was a difference of opinion; the studio didn’t think so. The R [rating] was what made it. If ‘Mountains’ had been PG-13, or I had said PG-13 … I’m too much of a Boy Scout, I should have lied, but I didn’t.”
Del Toro promises that one day, hopefully soon, his vision (at least partially) will be seen. “One day, I’ll show you the art, I’ll show you everything we did,” del Toro laments through Flickering Myth. “We did over 300 pieces of art, we did storyboards, we did models… we had a whole presentation. You will cry, you will go, ‘Why?’”
It seems, though, that del Toro answered his own question of “why” back in 2010 and it doesn’t seem to have changed. “It’s very difficult for a studio to take the step doing an R-rated tentpole movie with a tough ending and no love story…”
Along with Tom Cruise, del Toro had also signed on his Hellboy star, Ron Perlman. It was said that Perlman’s involvement was going to be a character not seen in Lovecraft’s original story. There were also more tweaks necessary for the script as there is not one once of dialogue in H.P.’s novella. The story was definitely a tough nut to crack, as are most of H.P. Lovecraft adaptations, but del Toro found a way to do so.
Although many years have passed since Universal said no to del Toro, the director still holds out hope that he can get the film made. He may not get Tom Cruise involved again, he may not have the assistance of James Cameron anymore, but del Toro is still determined to see it through. He even has a small keepsake as a reminder of what could have been.
“This is why I wear this ring since the project got canceled,” del Toro says via MovieWeb. “This is the fake ring about a fake university, the one that appears in the book, Miskatonic University, and I’m gonna wear it until I make the movie. They may bury me with it.”
We understand, Guillermo. We hope that your vision eventually makes it to the big screen.