Among our generation of favorite directors, Guillermo del Toro has to be at the top of many of your lists. The man has directed Cronos, Mimic, The Devil’s Backbone, Blade II, Hellboy, Hellboy II and Pan’s Labyrinth. He’s produced The Orphanage, Splice, Julia’s Eyes and the forthcoming Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. And in the coming years we’ll be seeing both his literary interpretations of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness in theaters.
In short, the guy is a genius and striving bring us more high-quality horror than we can even handle.
Ryan Daley sent me a link to what could be the longest article of all-time about the Mexican filmmaker, in which he talks to the New Yorker about developing Hobbit, Frankenstein, and At the Mountains of Madness. Daley was nice enough to pull out some excerpts, with the highlight being Del Toro’s desire to bring us a “hard R” version of At the Mountains of Madness.
[Del Toro] was adamant that he had left “The Hobbit” of his own accord, but his language seemed careful. “The visual aspect was under my control,” he said. “There was no interference with that creation.” In collaboration with Jackson and two screenwriters, del Toro had completed drafts for Parts 1 and 2. But final revisions were still to come, and he noted that any “strong disagreements” between him and Jackson would have occurred when they debated which scenes to film and which to cut—”You know, ‘I want to keep this.’ ‘I want to keep that.’ ” But, he said, he had quit “before that impasse.” I asked him if there had been creative tension. At Weta, he said, the production delay had made everyone anxious, and he “could not distinguish between a real tension and an artificial tension.”
He admitted that there had been discomfort over his design of Smaug. “I know this was not something that was popular,” he said. He said that he had come up with several audacious innovations—”Eight hundred years of designing dragons, going back to China, and no one has done it!“—but added that he couldn’t discuss them, because the design was not his intellectual property. “I have never operated with that much secrecy,” he said of his time at Weta.
Del Toro said that it had hurt “like a motherfucker” to leave the production, but I got the sense that he had found it even more painful to be away from L.A. “I really missed my man cave,” he said.
The most difficult part, he said, was “making peace with the fact that somebody else is going to have control of your creatures, your wardrobe, and change it, or discard it, or use it. All options are equally painful.” He added, “The stuff I left behind is absolutely gorgeous. I’m absolutely in love with it.” He suddenly became animated, waving his hands in the air like a conductor navigating a treacherous passage of Mahler. “We created a big exhibit in the last few weeks, in preparation for a studio visit. I had color-coded the movie: there was a green passage, a blue passage, a crimson passage, a golden passage. In Tolkien, there is a clear season for autumn, winter, summer, spring in the journey. And I thought, I cannot just stay in four movements in two movies. It will become monotonous. So I thought of organizing the movie so you have the feeling of going into eight seasons. So a certain area of the movie was coded black and green, a certain area was crimson and gold, and when we laid out the movie in a big room, we had all the wardrobe, all the props, all the color-coded key art. When you looked and saw that beautiful rainbow, you could comprehend that there was a beautiful passage.” His scheme would probably be abandoned, he said later: “Not much is going to make it. That’s my feeling.” Would his art be returned to him? “I hope to get maquette visitation rights.”
But he was thinking of taking an even bigger risk, and pursuing the adaptation of Lovecraft’s “At the Mountains of Madness“—his “Sisyphean project.” He had begun sketching images for an adaptation in 1993 and had completed a script in 1998. But the project had seemed too daunting; digital effects weren’t yet good enough to render creatures that changed shape far more radically than Transformers. Then, while del Toro was in Wellington, “Avatar” was released, and its landmark effects made “Madness” seem plausible. Crucially, James Cameron, a friend, had agreed to be a producer for “Madness,” sharing his expertise in designing strange worlds. And del Toro was now less wary of making digital monsters. At Weta, he had experimented with a “virtual camera,” which allows a director to maintain a sense of physicality when filming a C.G.I. creature. “They lay out the animation, you grab a camera, and you can change the angles within that virtual environment,” he said. “One day, I ended up dripping sweat from handling the virtual camera on the motion-capture stage. This camera would be very handy on ‘Madness.’ ”
The movie would not be an easy sell, though. Del Toro envisaged “Madness” as a “hard R” epic, shot in 3-D, with a blockbuster budget. Creating dozens of morphing creatures would be expensive, and much of the film needed to be shot somewhere that approximated Antarctica; one of the most disquieting aspects of Lovecraft’s novella is that the explorers are being pursued by monsters in a vast frozen void, and del Toro wanted to make the first horror movie on the scale of a David Lean production. But a “tent-pole horror film,” as del Toro put it, hadn’t been made in years. High-budget productions such as “Alien” and “The Shining” had been followed by decades of cheaper thrills. “The natural flaw of horror as a genre is that, ninety-nine per cent of the time, it’s a clandestine genre,” he said. “It lives and breathes—‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre,’ the first ‘Saw,’ ‘The Blair Witch Project’—in dark little corners that come out and haunt you. Rarely is there a beautiful orchid that blooms.”
At Lightstorm, del Toro met first with Callum Greene, a British producer. Greene warned him that, without discipline, his budget could easily exceed Universal’s limit of a hundred and twenty-five million dollars.
Most of them, del Toro declared, required C.G.I. “Animatronic effects don’t look good in daylight,” he noted, and much of the movie would be shot in foggy snowscapes.
But del Toro promised that the film was “not gory.” Victims would be “absorbed” by the aliens in ways that were “eerie and scary.” He explained, “When you watch a documentary of a praying mantis eating the head of its mate, because of the complexity of the mouth mechanism, you’re fascinated. It’s a horrible act, but you’re fascinated.” Though he wouldn’t be spattering blood, he said that he needed to fight Universal for an R rating, “to have the freedom to make it really, really uncomfortable and nasty.”
Read the full interview here.