By Christopher Campbell | Spout March 8, 2011 at 6:24AM
I'm not too familiar with what "At the Mountains of Madness" is or was going to be. So I don't really care that it's now a dead project. As far as I'm concerned, regardless of its cast, director, producer, source material or any hope and hype from the blogosphere, the adaptation up until now has had, like any other film in the making, a 50-50 chance of being either good or bad. There's a reason Spout doesn't follow the usual pitch-to-product track of films. And it's not just that one or two film lovers can't handle the load. Or that sites like The Playlist are perfect enough at that part of movie blogging. It's that it pretty much kills a part of my interest in movies.
However, I do enjoy following a debate, even if that debate concerns the industry more than the goods. And this battle at the film blog water cooler this morning (and on Twitter last night, with particular heat generated between /Film's Peter Sciretta and HitFix's Drew McWeeny) over who's to blame for the death of "At the Mountains of Madness" is a hoot, possibly more entertaining than the actual film would have been anyway. Then again, I think Guillermo Del Toro is overrated (no, that doesn't mean he's bad or that I dislike all his films), and anyone buying into the James Cameron-was-producing excitement apparently already forgot about "Sanctum" (and his name wasn't much help on Soderbergh's "Solaris," either).
I don't know who is or can be specifically at fault. Universal for not "taking a gamble"? You and me for being picky about what we pay to see at the theater? I have little to say on the studio's track record or brand. Even if Universal has an identity, for some reason the otherwise brand-obsessed masses don't care about it (even I couldn't tell you the companies who made or distributed the three films I just watched last night). Most moviegoers also aren't going to see or buy films just to save the movie business anymore than they're going to eat more often at their favorite expensive yet better restaurant just to ensure that Taco Bell doesn't end up their only dining option in the future.
I certainly don't blame the people for the death of a pricey production because they didn't see "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World." As much as I've said over and over that it's better than it looked, that stylish comic book adaptation still was quite an acquired and niche taste. And still not as amazing as you'd expect given its defenders' desperate pleas for you to finally embrace it. Four months later, I'm still waiting to hear the news that billions of people cried out in shame and regret for not having seen "Scott Pilgrim" on the big screen instead of waiting for the DVD or Blu-ray.
Then, I don't fault the general moviegoer for not seeing documentaries in the theater either. I know more and more are seeing them at home, at least. That's good. Do I wish they were more popular and my writings on non-fiction received more traffic? Certainly. But it's not the blog reader or audience's fault if they just don't care or like the mode (and fortunately doc-makers aren't going to change the way they make films based on what performs better at the cinema -- otherwise we'd just have a lot of pop idol bios and 3-D stunt spectacles). Hardcore documentary lovers, and hardcore anime lovers, and classic film lovers, and Hong Kong action lovers, and hardcore fanboys exist all the same and will see or not see and like or dislike what they want within their respective over-saturated markets. But it's not up to them to decide what they're offered.
Here, from the blogosphere are some arguments for who to blame on the latest debate. Definitely read the McWeeny in full, since most of these are a response to his lengthy piece.
There's a chance to make something that not only changes the industry, rewrites what is possible in Genre Filmmaking. [...] I don't know why I'm so surprised to see cowardice from a studio like Universal. I loved that AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS was going to happen there. They essentially invented horror with Carl Laemmle - and that hasn't done anything bold with the genre since John Carpenter's THE THING. Here they had a chance to redefine the genre forever. To make a mark in the genre that made the studio, the studio it is. I can't even imagine the MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS theme attraction they could've put together.
Oh well... I weep not for Guillermo, but Universal... They'll be coming in 6th again it seems.
It's easy to think a movie that doesn't exist could reinvent a genre -- and, whoah, the whole industry. But if he can't even imagine the roller coaster tie-in, how can be disappointed that it won't happen. Also, really, a theme attraction? That's Universal's incentive?
I've worked in this industry long enough to clearly recognize that Universal has been making lots of terrible decisions like this recently that really do hurt them in the long run. It's quite easy to see that they only think about tossing out shoddy PG-13 flicks, outrageously cutting budgets because they don't know how to take risks, and only making Taylor Lautner movies or Battleship adaptations, not genuinely brilliant passion-fueled projects like At the Mountains of Madness. [...] How the heck could a studio that claims to be so passionate about their films and filmmakers effectively kill del Toro's lifelong passionate project? One of the worst stories I've had to report on and of course, it's a Universal project. They killed BioShock previously, now this, what's next?
This is a crushing blow, and a clear indication that Hollywood more than ever is afraid of original ideas—“Inception” be damned—but we also can’t entirely blame Universal for hedging their bets. [...] it’s not like Universal hasn’t taken gambles. Looking back at 2010, the studio took a swing and missed on films like “Green Zone,” “The Wolfman,” “Robin Hood” and most notably “Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World.” And let’s be clear, not one of these films did they let wither on the vine. All received strong support and in the case of the latter, it was probably pushed harder than any of them and it was cheapest of them too. But with a relatively paltry $60 million budget, to date, the film has still only brought in $47 million worldwide and with only a couple more foreign territories to open it looks like it will have to look at the long run in terms of breaking even. So yes, it’s disheartening but also not very surprising.
Yeah, it sucks of Universal to not go ahead with what would surely be a fucking AMAZING film, but it also kind of sucks that audiences have spent the last few years telling Universal that they’re not interested in cutting edge, interesting or even plain old good movies. [...] And by the way: I think it’s just gonna get worse. We’re in for some rough, rough years.
Universal has taken chances over the recent years. That has been their method, and that method has failed in such a way that their output is down (and will be for 2011 as well), and they’ve had to say that safe, cost-free “No” to those damned Mountains of Madness. Is that disappointing? Yes. Is it their fault? Of course.
But the lesson is that their method failed, so they changed course, and that gives me hope. Not that Universal will have to play it safe for the next few rebuilding years, but that any given model or method of formula can fail. That means that The Formula can fail.
if you're looking to blame someone for the death of 'At the Mountains of Madness,' blame yourselves. [...] You want more risk-taking in Hollywood, start supporting the risk-taking by seeing these movies. Go see 'Paul' (despite the fact that those two British guys "sound weird"), and go see 'Your Highness' (even if the pot-smoking dragon-slayer genre isn't exactly your cup of tea). The more we support the bigger-budgeted films that think outside the box, the more studios will risk their money on them.
There is no way in hell I'm seeing "Your Highness" if I'm not into that kind of movie. Unless I hear it is amazing once it's released, but not beforehand, sight unseen.
blaming Universal for the overall system seems like blaming your lung if it turns out to be riddled with tumors. Your lung is just trying to do its job, and the entire system is rotting around it. That's where Universal is right now. [...] For this to be fixed, it's going to take a lot more than one mega-budget horror film either getting made or not getting made. It's going to take a major paradigm shift in what gets sold, how it gets sold, and what audiences reward with their viewing dollars. And you can't lay that off on Universal or Guillermo or the pandering to fanboys. It's systemic.
I love Drew's post, though I think his "system" issue is more the fault of the industry than the audience, and fortunately he goes into that saturation and pandering to fanboys problem that is far worse than the moviegoer's responsive finickiness and seemed abandonment. Of course, the business what it is today the studios won't see any problem on their end. Maybe someone can start a cinematic revolution by kidnapping a famous actress. Or, maybe we all can just ignore the big problem and just continue watching movies we want to watch. There's still plenty of good ones every year if we look hard enough.
The short version? Forget it, Jake; it’s Chinatown.
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Photo credit: I swiped that meme-ish Cthulhu pic from Coilhouse.net.