More than a decade ago, #Hellboy director Guillermo del Toro announced his intentions to adapt what is arguably H.P. Lovecraft's most famous work, At The Mountains Of Madness, to the big screen.
The potential, big-scale horror movie had everything going for it: a popular fan-favorite director, a well-renowned source material, special effects created by Industrial Light and Magic (ILM), blockbuster king James Cameron as producer, and none other than #MissionImpossible star Tom Cruise himself as the movie's lead.
And yet, #UniversalStudios refused to green light the film.
Universal's decision to do so has left many baffled, especially when given the names and talents attached to the project. Now, del Toro has come out to shed some light on one of Hollywood's biggest missed opportunities.
In an interview with Perri Nemiroff for the Collider podcast Collider Nightmares, the director opened up about the horror movie that could have been and what exactly killed At The Mountains Of Madness before it was even born.
We thought we had a very good, safe package… 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.
This statement confirms del Toro's words from 2010, where he revealed that producers balked at his proposal for a big-budget horror movie that had "a tough ending and no love story, set in period, from a writer, Lovecraft, who has a readership as big as any bestseller but cannot be quantified because his works are in the public domain."
The novella At The Mountains Of Madness follows a doomed geological expedition to Antarctica where scientists come face to face with the a race of creatures that are older and deadlier than mankind: The Elder Things. The reemergence of these incomprehensible, ancient beings not only spells doom for the explorers, but for the whole of humanity.
It's no secret that studios prefer PG-13 movies because they're the safest bet. R-Rated movies such as Fox's #Deadpool and #Logan may be blockbuster hits, but studios only see instances such as these as exceptions to the rule, not the start of a trend.
As del Toro described the studio's prevalent mindset in regards to ratings:
We all think, from the outside, that studios are going to learn this or that, but studios don’t think that way.
Aside from these factors, studios also feared that At The Mountains Of Madness would be too similar to another upcoming movie that centered on mankind discovering a horrifying truth: Ridley Scott's Prometheus. That, and the failure of The Wolfman remake cost Universal a lot of money, convincing the studio to put expensive horror projects like Lovecraft's tale of humanity's discovery of the Elder Things on hold.
Guillermo del Toro also elaborated on the amount of red tape and studio bureaucracy he had to deal with just to get a pitch for At The Mountains Of Madness in front of producers, emphasizing that all the artistic integrity and passion in the world is no match for the producers who loan their money to finance movies in the first place.
He also confirmed that while his passion project never made it past the development stage, there was a plethora of material created to show producers what At The Mountains Of Madness would have looked like on the big screen.
One day, I’ll show you the art, I’ll show you everything we did. 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?”
Considering what was going to be adapted and who was going to bring the ancient Lovecraftian horrors (including Cthulhu) to life, the loss of this movie is definitely something for horror movie fans and dedicated Lovecraft readers to cry about.
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At The Mountains Of Development Limbo
Guillermo del Toro's At The Mountains Of Madness sadly joins an already large list of movies that could have been great - if they were made in the first place. While some would chalk this up to studios' unchanging cynical nature where money trumps artistic value, others who are already resigned to this business mindset accept the movie's loss as business as usual.
However, that's not to say that At The Mountains Of Madness will never be made. Along with Lovecraft's seminal story, another potential big-scale adaptation Universal dropped was that of Stephen King's #TheDarkTower. Though it took longer than expected, The Dark Tower adaptation will be seen in theaters this year thanks to Columbia Pictures, with Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey in the starring roles.
Even if del Toro may not be prioritizing his take on Lovecraftian lore and the Cthulhu mythos right now, the potential for a studio (whether it's Universal or not) to take interest in At The Mountains Of Madness is still there.
This year, the Prometheus sequel and Lovecraft-inspired #AlienCovenant will be hitting theaters in all of its R-Rated glory. With the return of the nightmarish Xenomorphs, the planned sequels and spin-offs for Deadpool, and even Warner Brothers thinking about making R-Rated superhero movies, it seems that studios are finally lightening up towards ambitious R-Rated movies.
Given the colorful history and development of At The Mountains Of Madness and del Toro's busy schedule, it may take a long time before his vision of Lovecraft's stories is brought to a mainstream audience by a major studio. The hope of seeing this movie get made may be small, but it's something still worth thinking about and holding on to.
In the mean time, check out the indie horror movie The Void for your otherworldly horror needs. The Void is a homage to '80s monster-themed #horror movies, where practical effects were used to bring the most demented creatures to life. In true Lovecraft fashion, The Void centers around an ancient being that makes its presence felt by bringing unspeakable horrors to our plane of existence.
Watch the trailer for The Void below.