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

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

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.

“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.

“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

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