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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 | www.oliverlyttelton.com 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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"Newt" dir. Gary Rydstrom
What Killed It? One of the benefits of giant, continuing success, like the kind of success that Pixar has had over the past 15-odd years, is that it buys you the freedom to fail. Ever since "Toy Story 2" was completely retooled less than a year from release, the studio has been famous for making major changes during production; "Ratatouille" and the upcoming "Brave" both had a change of director mid-way through production, while even "Wall-E" and "Up" had dramatic narrative changes between inception and completion. As far as we're aware, however, only one project has been canceled: "Newt," which was originally slated to be the company's big release for next year. Set to be the directorial debut of veteran sound designer Gary Rydstrom (who helmed the excellent Pixar short "Lifted,") the plot involved a pair of blue-footed newts, Newt and Brooke, who are the last of their species and who are forced together in order to continue their kind. But Disney veteran Floyd Norman stated last year that the project was no longer in development, something later confirmed by the company's Facebook page, which leaked a selection of concept images for the film. No reasons have ever been given for the film's cancellation, and given the development costs involved that must make Pixar reluctant to permanently give up on a film, our theory has been for a while now that the similarities to Blue Sky Studios' upcoming "Rio," which features a pair of blue parrots who, yes, are expected to mate, may have scuppered the project.
How Can It Be Resurrected? We're not sure it can, to be honest. We imagine all personnel involved, Rydstrom included, have moved on to other projects at the studio, and the word seemed to be that the film was pretty much dead. Maybe we're wrong and it's secretly being retooled, but we imagine the near-certain success of "Rio" has put an end to the concept completely.

“Cold Case” dir. Mark Romanek
What Killed It? During Mark Romanek’s eight-year gap between his debut “One Hour Photo” and last year’s “Never Let Me Go,” there were a few films he flirted with directing. The two most significant are his endlessly documented version of “The Wolfman,” which he pulled out of with just weeks to go until filming, and the other was an adaptation of Philip Gourevitch’s true crime novel “Cold Case” starring Tom Hanks. The book starts in 1970 as Frank Koehler murders two men after an argument in a restaurant but he is dismissed after the NYPD mistakenly declares him dead. Twenty-seven years later on the eve of his retirement, police chief (and friend of one of the victims) Andy Rosenzweig (likely played by Hanks) decides to reopen the case. The book is supposedly more of a character study than a thriller which seems like it would have made a great project for Romanek and Hanks, but unfortunately due to issues with the life rights the project was shelved.
How Can It Be Resurrected? Romanek said he “curled up into a fetal position for six weeks” after the project fell apart at the last minute. But things work out for a reason and Romanek went on to make the lovely (if critically divisive) “Never Let Me Go,” though he still hopes to return to the project someday. In an interview last fall, Romanek said “The killer in the film is being paroled soon. When he dies, we can make the film.” Which is some pretty hardcore dedication, so it looks like if the director has his way, he’ll get the project back on its feet eventually.

"The Lady From Shanghai" dir. Wong Kar-Wai
What Killed It? Before the slip that was "My Blueberry Nights," Wong Kar-Wai had a long-in-the-works Hitchcockian thriller with Nicole Kidman set to star. An original project (no relation to the Orson Welles pic), Wong planned to shoot in China, Russia and New York, and was prepared to work around the Hollywood actress's often stuffed schedule, just as she was down with his molasses pace. Takeshi Kitano was rumored to be the antagonist, "My Blueberry Nights" DoP Darius Khondji spoke of commitment, but there were plenty of hurdles that kept it from getting off the ground -- there was the difficulty in getting a script ready that the director (who enjoyed doing things day-of) was comfortable with and finding a male counterpart to Kidman. Eventually, the "Bewitched" actress decided she wouldn't leave her husband's side for such an extended period of time, which officially put the nail in the coffin for the poor flick.
How Can It Be Resurrected? The director has basically said that there would be no point to do it without Kidman, and she has said that she'd be willing to do it if he would shoot somewhere closer to home. If the two could possibly make some sort of compromise it could definitely resurface, but given the director's slow and impulsive work ethic ("The Grand Masters" is still shooting, and has been for close to a year), it's possible that he's moved on for good.

"Heart of Darkness" dir. Orson Welles
What Killed It? After Orson Welles' brilliant radio broadcast of "War of the Worlds," he was approached with many different kinds of creative-art projects, but one that was most enticing was a two-picture deal from movie studio RKO, one which gave him complete creative control. The filmmaker, still in the first half of his twenties, decided on adapting Joseph Conrad's novella "Heart of Darkness" along with an interesting aesthetic -- shooting the entire thing from the first-person POV of narrator Marlow. RKO balked at the proposed budget (and we wouldn't put it pass them to have been overly nervous over the storytelling style) and he went on to make the legendary, game-changing "Citizen Kane" instead. Not exactly a downgrade.
How Can It Be Resurrected? Well, funny choice of words there. Seeing as the only thing that exists is a very general way to shoot it, it's possible that someone can adapt the book and do it the way Welles would have. Though by now we've already seen the brilliant "Apocalypse Now" and "Fitzcarraldo" (both which, in their own ways, use elements from Conrad's tale), taken a trip down POV lane (be it on LSD) with "Enter the Void," and witnessed someone's disastrous attempt to do Welles' "Magnificent Ambersons" justice in the lousy 2002 version. It seems like this idea has been exhausted, but if it's ever brought back, signs are likely to point to a more commercial route. Plus, there'd probably be some way for Beatrice Welles to be a pain in the ass about it, so better safe than sorry.

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


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