The real reason why Universal shut down “At The Mountains of Madness:”

The script.

I finally read it over the weekend (At the Mountains of Madness screenplay written by Guillermo Del Toro & Matthew Robbins) and I can see why Universal just couldn’t summon the confidence to put it into production with a $150 million pricetag.

There’s no theme. There’s no character development. The plot is repetitive and gets quite boring. The “method of defeat” is a silly construct that’s straight out of Shyamalan’s Signs. We don’t invest emotionally in the protagonist.

It’s bold. I’ll give it that. And I like Lovecraft’s mythical concept of the “old gods,” which is present in several cultures’ ancient tales (e.g., the Titans in Greek mythos), and the writers definitely do not shy away from that element.

And it would undoubtedly look incredible — with Del Toro’s direction and character designs and James Cameron’s 3-D shepherding…wow. Your eyeballs would be incinerated.

But it just doesn’t have the story. And if there’s one thing we’re learning now, more than ever, as big-budget eye-candy-laden “tentpole” films bomb, one after the other, is that size doesn’t matter if you don’t have a frickin’ story and characters!

If I had to pick one thing that hurts this script and most of those soulless cgi-fest films, it’s the absence of our emotional investment in the characters.

Say what you will about the story in Avatar, but ten minutes into the movie, I cared about Jake Scully.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for large-scale, intelligent horror — I truly long for the return of a medium to big budget A-list shocker like The Shining, The Exorcist, Alien, The Thing, Misery, The Sixth Sense, The Ring or The Others (notice that most of those films had R ratings, which was one of the things that Del Toro insisted on for Madness but the studio would never agree to).

Granada (Panther) 1974. Cover art: Ian Miller Some rights reserved Non-commercial usage only

The point is: We need a new classic horror film! Or, more accurately, Supernatural Thriller. Or is it more Science Fiction? Hard to pinpoint, which is one of its original qualities, but since the plotting is also derivative of Alien and The Thing (which perhaps were influenced by H.P. Lovecraft?), the unique tone doesn’t save it.

I’m also a fan of Guillermo Del Toro, although for me he’s not consistent — I’m a fan of Pan’s Labyrinth and his creature designs in all of his films are fantastic, but although I enjoyed Hellboy, as a fan of Mike Mignola’s brilliant comic book series I can’t sign off on it. I know this is old, sour grapes at this point but it must be said…

Hellboy is gothic. It’s that simple. It’s not contemporary New York City.

Don’t get me started on Hellboy 2: The Golden Army. Looked great, of course, but the story was a mess. So maybe Del Toro is one of those directors who favors visuals over story, in fact, maybe he never quite developed his screenwriting skills enough so he’ll never get to the storytelling level of a Peter Jackson or Tim Burton?

Time will tell. And this post is not about the genius of the Hellboy graphic novels so I’ll wrap it up. Okay, I can’t resist, just one panel…

How great is that? That sense of fun, wit, sarcasm, magic, adventure…sadly, only in certain spots in Del Toro’s Hellboy films and definitely not in the At the Mountains of Madness script.

If you’d like more details, Deadline.com posted an interview with Guillermo Del Toro in which he talks about the film falling apart at Universal. It’s sad, considering this is his passion project and it comes on the heels of another crushing disappointment, his loss of The Hobbit directing job, but I feel like it’s the right thing at this time. He’s a nice and talented guy who’s going through a rough patch of development hell but he’ll get through it

I wish Del Toro luck in rolling cameras on one of his many other projects he has in development. He smartly keeps a lot of irons in the fire (a good lesson for all of us), so I know he’ll land on his feet. As for you guys…

Good Luck and Happy Writing!

Dan

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