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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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"Deep Tiki" dir. Cameron Crowe
What Killed It? Good question. Scott Rudin and Cameron Crowe is a powerful duo. Our distate for “Elizabethtown” has been well documented so we won’t go there, but it was until three years later that a follow-up to that 2005 film had coalesced. Titled “Deep Tiki,” the film was, for all intents and purposes, another “Jerry Maguire”-esque dramedy, only this time it was set in Hawaii on a military base and had -- aside from the man-coming-to-terms-with-what-an-asshole-he-is/can he love and be love? angle -- this entire other subplot of Hawaiian mysticism and an illegal satellite launch in the skies above the Pacific island (the main character was a Defensecon military contractor). Under the aegis of Columbia Pictures, the picture was to star Ben Stiller and Reese Witherspoon. Stiller would have played the protagonist, a 37-year-old angry, frustrated and self-absorbed military operative whose love and life has passed him by. He had fucked up an assignment royally in Kabul and almost died, and the Hawaiian operation was his second chance to redeem his career. Witherspoon would have played an anal, humorless and by-the-book Air Force officer assigned to keep watch on Stiller. The long and short, they hate each other, but they eventually fall in love, while Stiller eventually torpedoes his career for the greater good of Hawaii (yeah, long story). So what happened? As far as we can tell, the early 2009 shoot was postponed and then presumably, Crowe lost his leads to scheduling and the film was slightly in limbo. Instead of picking up the ball, he decided to wait (or bail entirely) and moved on to “We Bought a Zoo,” which is shooting now and comes out at Christmas.
How Can It Be Resurrected? Well, can it be resurrected, should it be and is Crowe even interested? As we said, it hewed pretty closely to “Jerry Maguire” in a lot of respects and the fact that Crowe didn’t try and quickly recast it sort of says...well, something. It’s not our favorite Cameron Crowe script in the world to be honest, and many of us think Ben Stiller is the most overrated comedian-turned-semi-dramatic actor, so if this one never surfaces again with him, we can’t say we’ll shed tears. Our guess is the moment has passed on this one and Crowe’s passion for it is gone, but that’s just our speculation.

"Dieter" dir. Bo Welch
What Killed It? During the golden "Austin Powers," pre-"Love Guru" years when Mike Myers seemingly had the Midas touch, Imagine Entertainment reached out to him and “Dieter” was born. A spin-off of the popular “Saturday Night Live” sketch “Sprockets,” Dieter/Myers hosted his own surrealist German talk show where he pranced around in a tight black leotard and danced humorlessly to industrial synth music. The “Dieter” script took the character on an adventure of sorts, as the character had to undergo a Hero’s Quest to find his beloved monkey, who had been kidnapped by David Hasselhoff (once, this was a funny idea). Imagine set a release date, appointed longtime production designer Bo Welch as the director, and brought Jack Black aboard in a supporting role. Then Myers announced the script -- a sometimes high-minded, mostly funny collection of non-sequiters and one hysterical extended “Wings of Desire” homage -- was not complete and needed a re-write (he was right). Imagine had to scuttle the shooting date, laying off many employees and prompting a particularly bad-tempered lawsuit against Myers, who once claimed he was nearly chased off a cliff in a high speed chase with a process server. In the end, “Dieter” died, but Myers and Imagine made up when Myers agreed to star (with Welch directing) in “The Cat In the Hat.” So, yeah, everybody loses.
How Can It Be Resurrected? Put it this way: Myers is currently lending his voice to big-screen versions of Looney Tunes characters "Pepe Le Pew" and "Marvin the Martian" -- he certainly no longer has the heat to get something as odd as "Dieter" made. Indeed, he's only taken three live-action roles in the decade since the project fell apart, one of which was a one-scene cameo in "Inglourious Basterds." The character's long since forgotten, and the script's probably tied up in the aftermath of the lawsuit. Never gonna happen.

"Batman: Year One" dir. Darren Aronofksy
Poor WB, led into thinking Darren Aronofsky was interested in making a Batman movie. Aronofsky, who’s also been linked to versions of “Watchmen” and “Robocop” that seemed destined to not happen, has been open about getting involved in the WB’s proposed Batman prequel simply to get his foot in the door with major Hollywood executives, in order to get "The Fountain" made. The helmer was hired before even "Requiem For A Dream" hit theaters, and took the project principally as a showcase for his writing. Teaming with Frank Miller, who wrote a well-known graphic novel of the same name, Aronofsky wrote a scriptment and designed “production art” for an aborted Batman re-imagining, depicting Bruce Wayne as a latchkey kid under the care of local mechanic Big Al in a distinctly realistic, R-rated Gotham City. While the WB was obviously not enamored with Aronofsky’s ideas, which included Catwoman as the head of a seedy brothel and our hero blinding a police commissioner by throwing a knife in his eye, it helped him get “The Fountain” made and opened the door for “Batman Begins” -- which, compared to Aronofsky's script, must have seemed as kid-friendly as "Batman & Robin" to Warners execs.
How Can It Be Resurrected? Considering how open the "Black Swan" director has been about his motives for being attached to this one, and that he's finally making a superhero movie on his own terms with "The Wolverine," it's certainly not happening with him involved and not with his script. But it's possible that a similarly gritty, grounded "Batman: Year One" could materialize down the line. And if Nolan keeps to his promise and leaves the character alone after "The Dark Knight Rises," Warners are unlikely to leave their golden goose alone for too long.

Oli Lyttelton, Cory Everett, Christopher Bell, Gabe Toro, Rodrigo Perez

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


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