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To Honor The Passing Of 'At The Mountains Of Madness': 10 More Great Lost Projects

Photo of Oliver Lyttelton By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist March 10, 2011 at 8:33AM

The beginning of this week marked one of the more disappointing moments in recent film news with the news that, after leaving "The Hobbit" due to frustrations with the delays, Guillermo del Toro's long-time dream project, an adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's "At the Mountains of Madness," had failed to get the green light from Universal Studios. Despite the triple threat of del Toro, producer James Cameron and star Tom Cruise, the $150 million budget and a likely R-rating put an end to the film's chances.
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The beginning of this week marked one of the more disappointing moments in recent film news with the news that, after leaving "The Hobbit" due to frustrations with the delays, Guillermo del Toro's long-time dream project, an adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's "At the Mountains of Madness," had failed to get the green light from Universal Studios. Despite the triple threat of del Toro, producer James Cameron and star Tom Cruise, the $150 million budget and a likely R-rating put an end to the film's chances.

It's possible that the film may be resurrected down the line -- del Toro's hopeful that another studio may step in, but for now, he's moved on to the giant monster flick "Pacific Rim," and "At the Mountains of Madness" joins the long list of Hollywood's What Ifs. In honor of it moving on to the other side, we've taken the opportunity to have a look at 10 other dream projects that we'd love to see end up on screen one day.

And if the below doesn't have enough heartbreak for you, we took a look at another 10 last year, along with five films that David Fincher came close to making, and five for Joe Carnahan. Megan Ellison, we hope you're reading...

"Killing on Carnival Row" dir. Guillermo Del Toro
What Killed It? You could easily fill one of these features entirely with the projects that Guillermo del Toro has flirted with and discarded over the years, but few are as intriguing as "Killing on Carnival Row." Del Toro boarded the film, set up at New Line, back in 2006, just as "Pan's Labyrinth" was about to elevate him to the A-list. The film was the calling card of the then 25-year-old Travis Beacham, who's gone on to be one of the most in-demand writers around -- penning a draft of "Clash of the Titans" and "The Black Hole" for Disney, and he's finally about to work with del Toro on "Pacific Rim." Beacham created a fairly unique (at least in cinema) noir fantasy world, influenced by the likes of China Mieville and Neil Gaiman, where humans, fairies (or faeries, as it is in the script) and other creatures live side by side. Rycroft Philostrate is a detective in a steampunkish, Victorian city of The Burgue, tracking a vampiric serial killer who becomes a suspect when his faerie lover becomes the latest victim. While, in the initial draft we read, the plotting could have done with some work, falling into cop movie cliches more often than not, and with a slightly shaky sense of character, it was a gorgeously described, genuinely inventive, alternative world, and one that del Toro would have done a spectacular job on. Unfortunately, the helmer was swiftly given the chance to make "Hellboy II" and jumped ship, and while Neil Jordan came on board to write and direct shortly afterwards, the film's never materialized.
How Can It Be Resurrected? With Beacham hotter than ever, it's certainly possible, although we can't imagine del Toro returning to it with his slate so busy for the next few years. Jordan's busy on his adaptation of Neil Gaiman's "The Graveyard Book," which will likely scratch his fantasy itch, so it'd need some rising director of their ilk to take an interest. Former animator Ben Hibon, for instance, or someone like "Snow White and the Huntsman" director Rupert Sanders. Even then, though, a prohibitively expensive R-rated fantasy is probably still too big a risk to pull the trigger on, especially at the slimmed-down New Line, although if any of the three or four fairy tale cop series going to pilot at the moment catch on, the film could well find a new lease of life.

"Watchmen" (Paul Greengrass version)
What Killed It? What's even more frustrating about sitting through a bad movie is watching one when you know that in an alternate universe, a far superior one from a different creative team is out there somewhere -- our reaction to Peter Jackson's "The Lovely Bones" was certainly aggravated by knowing that the great Lynne Ramsay was booted off the project in favor of the hirsute Kiwi. One of the great what-could-have-beens is the adaptation of Alan Moore's graphic novel classic "Watchmen." Zack Snyder's version has its defenders, but we're certainly not among them, and it's hard not to feel that the once-mooted versions by Terry Gilliam and Paul Greengrass would have been preferable. Admittedly, Gilliam's might have actually been worse -- the diverging-enormously-from-the-source-material script from "Batman" writer Sam Hamm was pretty bad -- but Greengrass came within a whisker of actually making it back in 2005. The helmer was picked by Fox, who then held the rights, after the success of "The Bourne Supremacy." Greengrass would have kept his trademark documentary style for a version set in the present day, potentially alienating die-hard comic fans, but also avoiding the irrelevancy that Snyder's Reagan-era period piece had. And his cast would have potentially trumped the B-list likes of Malin Akerman and Jeffrey Dean Morgan: Brad Pitt and Denzel Washington topped the wishlist for Ozymandias and Dr. Manhattan (although were admittedly longshots), and Joaquin Phoenix, Hilary Swank, Ron Perlman and Paddy Considine were all-but-signed on as Nite Owl, Silk Spectre, The Comedian and Rorschach, respectively. We can but dream...
How Can It Be Resurrected: Well, it can't really. As reboot-happy as Hollywood is, particularly over superhero movies (three parallel X-Men franchises, three different Hulks in less than a decade), we can't see Warner Bros. wanting to take a tumble with "Watchmen" again any time soon after Snyder's version disappointed at the box office, particularly as Greengrass' version would probably be less commercial. Maybe decades from now someone will take another stab at it, but Greengrass has long since moved on.

"The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay" dir. Stephen Daldry
What Killed It? Remarkably, although not surprisingly, it seems that being one of the most beloved and well-reviewed novels of your generation is not the shortcut to a big-screen adaptation the way that, say, being a board game is. Film adaptations of the likes of "A Confederacy of Dunces" and "The Corrections" have languished in development hell for years, and perhaps the most missed is the screen version of "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay." Michael Chabon's masterwork, which involves a Jewish exile from Prague and his Brooklyn-born cousin in the 1930s who together create a Superman-style comic character, isn't an easy adaptation to be sure: the third act leaps a decade into the future, introducing a host of new characters, and there's so much goodness that a two-hour movie is near-impossible. But it hasn't stopped people from trying: super-producer Scott Rudin optioned the novel when it was only a treatment, with Chabon himself tapped to write the script. It took multiple drafts, but Chabon was thought to have cracked it, and the late Sydney Pollack landed the director's chair, with Jude Law linked to the role of Joe Kavalier. By 2004, however, the project was dead, only for Stephen Daldry, hot off the success of "The Hours," to jump aboard. The film gathered momentum again with Tobey Maguire, Jamie Bell and Natalie Portman supposedly close to starring, only for it to collapse. But even then it wasn't dead, the film coming closest to production in 2006, with Portman still seemingly attached, and Ryan Gosling, Andrew Garfield, Ben Whishaw and Jason Schwartzman all in contention for roles. Again, however, the film failed to get the green light, for what Chabon described as reasons of "studio politics." All that's been seen since is a test clip filmed by animator Jamie Caliri, dating from when the project was closer to happening.
How Can It Be Resurrected? Well, the film's never really gone away, as such -- Daldry still talks it up from time to time, and as far as we know, Rudin still controls the rights, although it certainly doesn't seem to be in active development. It's likely to be a very expensive project, however, the kind that, even with the novel's superhero aspect, is unlikely to appeal to studio bosses. We're sure it'll reach screens one day, but our feeling is it'll be some young tyke down the line who grew up with the book and has it as a passion project, rather than Daldry, who's always seemed like a rather odd fit.

This article is related to: Films, Feature, Genre Films, At The Mountains of Madness, Features


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