An Ode to the Movies Guillermo del Toro Never Got to Make
Take a moment to consider Guillermo del Toro. Arguably one of the greatest directors of our time, his keen eye for detail, encyclopedic knowledge of seemingly everything, and giddy enthusiasm for horror has given us some of the most striking films of the past 25 years: Cronos is a unique take on the vampire movie with a mythological twist; The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth are sharp examinations of the Spanish Civil War through a genre lens; Crimson Peak is an achingly detailed gothic romance; and the Hellboy duology reminded the world that superhero stories could be vibrant, silly and free of crushing self-seriousness. Indeed, it’s been almost a decade since Hellboy 2: The Golden Army was released and fans are still hoping for a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy.
At one point earlier this year, it seemed that del Toro and Ron Perlman were close to getting it made, but that fell through, and now it seems the dream is dead. A reboot of the Hellboy series has been announced with Neil Marshall at the helm, Stranger Things’s David Harbour in the titular role, and the promise of R rated fun, but it just ain’t del Toro. Unfortunately for those of us who adore his work - and hang on his every word on his amazing Twitter account - Mexico’s biggest fanboy has a habit of announcing things that never happen. Or joining projects that get cancelled. Or leaving films to be replaced by less interesting directors. Or just throwing ideas into the wind and leaving us with years of futile speculation. Del Toro’s history of unrealized projects is so long that it even has its own Wikipedia page, dedicated to reminding us fans of the joys we’ll never get to see.
With his new film, The Shape of Water, set for an end of the year release - it’s about a mute woman who falls in love with a fish-man during the Cold War and stars both Michaels Shannon and Stuhlbarg, how could it not be the greatest film ever? - we decided to pay homage to those unmade Guillermo del Toro movies, those of such immense potential and excitement that their absence in our lives truly stings. Getting a movie made is hard, more so now than ever, even if you’re a major name director with dozens of hits to your name, so keep that in mind while you wonder why such things fall apart so quickly. This doesn’t cover everything, of course, because otherwise we’d be here all day, but it’s a handy glimpse into a better world where all of our fantasies are sufficiently pandered to.
Before his magnum opus Akira, Katsuhiro Otomo created Domu: A Child’s Dream, a similarly themed manga involving a child with extraordinary powers. This is one of del Toro’s earliest non-starters, as complications with the rights made it near impossible to get off the ground, especially at a time where manga and anime was a strange foreign anomaly and not a hot new thing to whitewash. Last year, Katsuhiro Otomo revealed in an interview that Domu was in the early stages of becoming a movie, which may pave the way for an Akira adaptation (oh please Hollywood don’t fuck that up).
Disney’s last foray into the world of Kenneth Grahame’s classic children’s novel was with 1949’s The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, and even then it only took up one half of the story (but it does also have a surprisingly dark Disneyland ride). It doesn’t seem like classic del Toro material but he is a big kid at heart, and a Disney nerd to the core, so the prospect of a live-action/3D animation hybrid adaptation of The Wind in the Willows was an intriguing one. This is a project I’m not so secretly glad was killed off, as del Toro admitted the executives wanted him to Poochie it up, with Mr Toad as a radical skater amphibian. Remember, this was post-Renaissance Disney, when Home on the Range seemed like a good idea. Everything else at Disney’s getting a revival with the multi-million dollar budget to match so wait and see if this one gets dragged out of the vaults.
The loosely connected Spanish Civil War series may be del Toro’s masterpiece, and they were originally planned to include a third companion. About a decade ago, right after Pan’s Labyrinth’s incredible success, del Toro announced a film called 3993, another Spanish language fantasy set during the Spanish Civil War, only this one would begin in 1993 and look back to 1939. Del Toro’s planned screenwriter Sergio Sanchez talked of the recent re-opening of grave sites from the era and discovering of people’s ancestors, which provided inspiration for the story, but this one seems to have been shelved in favour of the second Hellboy movie.
Easily Roald Dahl’s scariest book, the Nicolas Roeg movie adaptation is the high-octane nightmare fuel of many a childhood (myself included). So how could del Toro top that in terms of sheer terror inducing mania? By making it into a stop-motion animation, of course! Guillermo expressed interest in tackling the project with fellow director and close friend Alfonso Cuarón, but that was in 2008 and nothing’s been announced since, so this one we can safely assume was cancelled or never in production. Such a tease.
Oh, what could have been. It seemed too good to be true - del Toro does Tolkien! - and indeed it was. After two years of preparing to direct the series and increasingly frustrating delays, del Toro walked, leaving Peter Jackson to take up the mantle of Middle Earth once again, and we all know how that ended up. In fairness to Jackson, the stakes were incredibly high, but the end results were misguided at best. Del Toro still has a screenplay credit, but it’s nobody’s finest hour. It still boggles the mind that adapting a sweet fantastical children’s novel into a nine hour war epic ever made it out of the pitch meeting.
Given how wide reaching his influence is, it’s somewhat glaring that there’s never been a HP Lovecraft movie of any kind. Any attempt at a full-blown Lovecraft adaptation will require an obscenely large budget, an R rating and a studio willing to avoid meddling with the nightmarish imagery and tone. Familiar names and popular properties are much coveted in Hollywood but even they have their limits. Del Toro seemed to have a good team going when his adaptation of At the Mountains of Madness for Universal Pictures was announced in 2010 - James Cameron as producer, anyone - with Tom Cruise set to star? Del Toro is certainly suitably morbidly minded for such a task, having gleefully described his love of the stories (and the presence of a life-sized Lovecraft wax model in his home, because if you’re doing to have a six foot tall mannequin of a racist writer in your library, why not Lovecraft?) Of course, Universal balked, with del Toro blaming the R rating and sheer volume of effects work. While studios are now more open to investing in R-rated tentpoles following recent successes like Logan and Deadpool, this one may be a few years off entering production, especially since Cameron has decided that the people simply must have those Avatar sequels.
Once upon a time, Warner Bros. and DC weren’t a perpetual train-wreck, and the prospect of a Justice League Dark live-action adaptation didn’t fill us with dread or flashbacks of Zack Snyder’s grimness. Del Toro’s involvement was announced in 2013, and he had expressed interest in keeping Matt Ryan from the short-lived NBC series Constantine in the lead role, alongside DC favourites like Swamp Thing, Deadman and Zatanna. By 2015, del Toro was off the project, and so the film remains in that disheartening limbo state alongside every other project Warner Bros. keeps announcing to pretend their cinematic universe isn’t descending into incompetent chaos. Guillermo is perfect for the DCU we need; for the one we have, it’s a relief to see him at a safe distance from the cinematic sinkhole.
Anime is such a clear influence on del Toro, so it’s a surprise that he’s never adapted one for the big or small screen. This one, based on the manga by Naoki Urasawa, was announced in 2013 as a HBO project, in collaboration with Stephen Thompson of Doctor Who and Sherlock acclaim. It’s not as fantastical a premise as some of del Toro’s unmade masterpieces, but it’s certainly the one I wanted the most: A psychological thriller set in Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall, wherein a young Japanese brain surgeon must uncover the history of a young boy he saved from certain death who turned out to be a neo-Nazi eugenics experiment gone horribly wrong. The central dynamic has much in common with Holmes and Moriarty, with shades of Will Graham versus Hannibal Lecter, and a HBO series with del Toro at the helm would have made for a fascinating pitch-black thriller. While HBO passed on the project, del Toro has said that they were looking to pitch to other studios, so this one isn’t entirely dead in the water. Peak TV may reign supreme but surely there’s room for this one. Anime is in style right now in Hollywood, albeit in the most milquetoast and whitewashed manner possible. At least with this project, that issue would be avoided since the majority of the characters are white.
Outside of the first Pirates of the Caribbean, theme park rides don’t have the best history as source material for film adaptations. The potential is certainly there, but it can be tough to mould a cohesive story from that kind of experience. The Haunted Mansion at Disneyland is a stunning piece of work, darker than the company’s usual fare but still imbued with incredible detail and humour, so it was inevitable that it would be turned into a terrible Eddie Murphy movie. Fortunately for Disney, del Toro is a die-hard Disney geek and has a special place in his heart for this very ride. There’s even a tribute to it in his super cool house. His own take on the project was announced at Comic-Con in 2010, with Ryan Gosling attached, but we’ve heard nothing from it since. del Toro seems to have gotten bored of waiting around and essentially made his own Haunted Mansion movie in the form of Crimson Peak. Last year, he did mention on Twitter that they were still on the film and redrafting the script. Given Disney’s current world domination and willingness to give everything a live-action movie, this one feels inevitable, but there’s no guarantee our man will stick around for it.
Sometimes, we just can’t have nice things. Announcing a dream project that never gets made is one thing; offering fans a glimpse into the world and then having it snatched away from them by terrible management is a whole new level of geek cruelty. Del Toro’s involvement in the Silent Hill video game series was a moment of bliss. Add Hideo Kojima and Norman Reedus and everything seemed on track for a new masterpiece in the acclaimed horror series. Sadly, Konami are infamously awful, and the game was cancelled. Del Toro has since joked that he’s become a bad luck charm for video games, as everything he joins seems to go horribly wrong (he had previously been attached to a trilogy of survival horror video games called Insane, that was eventually cancelled in 2013). Kojima’s latest game, Death Stranding, doesn’t seem to feature del Toro, but he does make an appearance in one of the game’s trailers, where his character meets the tragic fate we all secretly hope will be our way of leaving this earth - attacked by a tentacled Mads Mikkelsen.
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