Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #690: Universal Gets Lost In The Mountains Of Madness

Welcome to the show folks...

Sad news for lovers of strange creatures dwelling in dark corners, Universal Pictures' development of Guillermo Del Toro's
At The Mountains Of Madness has stalled indefinitely, and Del Toro has moved onto another project. Now while part of me wants to call the wrath of Cthulu down upon the slack-jawed philistines of Universal Pictures, I can actually understand where they're coming from. Let's look at the pros and cons and then you can decide about this project for yourself.


1. THE SOURCE MATERIAL: For the ignorant among you the script is based on a novella by H.P. Lovecraft. It's the story of an expedition to the Antarctic who discover an ancient city among the ice and realize that it's alive with all sorts of strange and nasty horrors.

It's considered one of the classics of the horror genre, and has influenced generations of writers. The short story "Who Goes There," by John W. Campbell jr. which was the basis of
The Thing franchise (especially John Carpenter's version) was a spiritual sequel to At The Mountains Of Madness. It has a lot of fans who became doubly excited when they heard about...

2. THE PEOPLE BEHIND IT: This adaptation was to be made by Guillermo Del Toro, a director whose phantasmagorical visual style is considered by many to be perfect for the project. It was also set to be produced by James Cameron, fresh off of
Avatar, and could possibly star Tom Cruise in the role of the heroic geologist battling shape-shifting horrors.


1. THE SOURCE MATERIAL: While the novella has its fans, it's not really a "mainstream" classic along the lines of the
Dracula or Frankenstein. The prose is dense, impenetrable to some, and a lot of people are just turned off by Lovecraft's name without giving his work any real chance. Plus, it is a horror story, pure and simple. It features mutilations, dissections, and nasty slimy oozy things coming at you from dark corners. It wouldn't really translate into a more mainstream adventure story very well, and could wind up getting hosed when it comes to...

2. THE RATING: The odds of this movie getting an R rating are pretty good. The MPAA ratings apparatus is highly capricious, and more and more prone to bump a rating up the ladder, rather than down, in the name of the illusion of "protecting the children." Now if they remain faithful to the source material, there's no sex, or coarse language, so the MPAA would have to rate it on the grounds of violence and gore, which the original novel has aplenty. Even if the film version is no gorier than an average episode of
CSI that gets repeat airings during weekend afternoons it could easily get branded with an R rating, just as a matter of principal.

R rated movies don't make as much money as movie rated PG-13, PG, or G, it's simple mathematics. Adult audiences don't go to repeat screenings the way younger audiences do, and R rated movies don't normally generate the merchandising opportunities found in their gentler cousins. You're not going to find kids screaming for a plush Shoggoth of their very own at Christmas time, instead they might scream if they do find one.

This film has to avoid the R rating, and the reduced returns from said rating if it's going to make a profit, which is a tricky proposition anyway considering....

3. THE COST: The proposed production budget for this film is $150 million dollars. Even in today's Hollywood economy that is a truckload of money. It could go even higher, namely because of producer James Cameron, who can't do a home video of his seventeenth wedding without spending $100 million on CGI and then there's Tom Cruise, who won't be offering to this movie for free, even though his recent box office performance says that's what he's worth.

Then there's the prints and advertising costs, which could easily hit another $150 million, meaning that the film would probably need to make $300,000,000+ just to break even. That's a task that would be nearly impossible for an R rated movie.

If they really want this movie to get made the filmmakers have to come up with a way to either make it much, much cheaper, or find a way to get a PG-13 rating at most, which is highly improbably unless they take out just about everything that made the original story such a classic shocker.

As Ned Flanders would say, this is a dilly of a pickle to be in.


  1. Dirty McDingus query's:
    Where the dueces is that book of Tintin?! wiki doesn't list it so I'm suspecting this pics a forgery..
    Post a link to a website that would sell that one Please! I'd love to get me hands on it if it's real~

  2. It's not real, it's some artist's idea of a joke.

    I think I stumbled on it at io9's web site, the guy did a bunch of faux TinTin covers to a bunch of Lovecraft's stories, and I couldn't resist a joke.

  3. Blast Hardcheese9/3/11 10:27 am

    The funny thing is, if they did a 'straight up' adaptation of ATMOM it should be super-cheap. All of the nasty stuff happens off-page, and there's only one proper monster scene in the whole story. Use some CGI mattes for the vast Antarctic vistas, and you're done.

    Lovecraft is all about the anticipation, not about the actual reveal. He was really good at 'horrific suspense', which doesn't take a huge budget. It does, however take talent to translate to the screen.

    Actually, I never like ATMOM all that much. My favorite Lovecraft is still 'The Shadow out of Time'. Fantastic build-up, and even though you see the end coming the final sentence still packs a wallop.

  4. Hmm... let's see...

    Well, Del Toro is only half-competent as a horror director - seriously, his movies that have done the best were actually action movies. Tom Cruise...well, I don't necessarily hate him, but he didn't exactly 'class up' War of the Worlds. And with Cameron involved, not only does the budget balloon, but I think the movie will make the decision to give the inhuman monsters the moral high ground.

    So, yeah, better no adaptation at all than an adaptation in their hands.

    Plus, the simple issue remains that Mountains of Madness was a groundbreaking story in the 1930s, but now, everything it did has been copied over and over by others. So, the uninformed will just consider it a ripoff.

  5. I have friends who collect Cthuloid plushies, of which their are a surprising number in a variety of sizes.