Guillermo del Toro at the Mountains of Madness

Guillermo del ToroWhen Guillermo del Toro walked away from the helm of The Hobbit movies back in 2010, there was some consolation (for those of us who had been anticipating his distinctive handling of Tolkien’s story) in the knowledge that the director would be able to pursue the host of other projects he was then attached to. At the time these included (but were not limited to) Frankenstein, Dan Simmons’ Drood, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Slaughterhouse-Five, Death: The High Cost of Living, Hellboy 3 and, of course, his decades long ambition to adapt HP Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness.

Written late in Lovecraft’s career (1931) At the Mountains of Madness is considered a cornerstone work in his Cthulhu Mythos, providing an ancient historical framework for the stories about the Elder Things and their terrifying servants, the Shoggoths. It’s an unnerving story told by geologist William Dyer, professor at Miskatonic University. In an attempt to deter others from making the same mistake, Dyer reluctantly recounts his terrifying experiences on an expedition to an unexplored mountainous region in Antarctica. There he and his team discovered the remains of highly evolved ancient life forms unknown to science, and were almost destroyed to a man by the experience. Dyer and a student, Danforth, travel deep into the mountains where they discover a deserted city, built on a monumental scale and according to an entirely inhuman geometry, and there they come to understand the awesome (fearsome and dreadful) history of the beings who existed long before the advent of mankind.

Of course, the city is not entirely deserted…

Del Toro is ideally, and some might even say uniquely, suited to the task of adapting Lovecraft’s written word for the screen, combining as he does a proven talent as a writer and director with a remarkable passion for Lovecraft’s work and an impressive understanding of the material (check him out discussing Lovecraft’s life, peculiar psychology and even more bizarre fiction in the excellent documentary, Fear of the Unknown). Without these qualities, I’m doubtful whether anyone could successfully bring to the screen the wonder, awe and terror, the dreadful spectacle and the personal psychological shock conveyed through Lovecraft’s written word at its best. And of course del Toro has already drawn heavily on the Cthulhu Mythos in Hellboy. With his talent for film-making, passion for the project and sensitivity to the material, we’re almost guaranteed a great movie.

Throughout 2010 it looked increasingly likely that del Toro would finally get this project off the ground, despite revealing at the Saturn Awards that year that he actually had little faith in the capacity for the studios to back “a period-set, R-rated, tentpole movie with a tough ending and no love story."

He was right and in 2011 Universal pulled the plug on the Lovecraft adaptation. Del Toro went on to direct Pacific Rim, which is due later this year, but now that Pacific Rim is out of the way it looks like del Toro will once more attempt to scale the Mountains of Madness. Reported in The Playlist earlier this week, del Toro declared that "I’m going to try it one more time. Once more into the dark abyss. We're gonna do a big presentation of the project again at the start of the year and see if any [studio's] interested."

No doubt giving such a presentation even more weight is news that Tom Cruise is still attached to the project, "I think it would be so fantastic to make it with him". del Toro remarkd. "He's been such a great ally of the project."

Fingers (and tentacles) crossed.

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