23 July 2010

Grim Grinning Guillermo del Toro

News flies fast out of the events at San Diego Comic-Con, which has turned into a film industry roll-out show for genre properties. So far, the most exciting news I’ve heard, aside from how great the Tron Legacy footage looks, comes the lips of one of my favorite directors working today, the prolific and brilliant master of the phantasmagoric and lover of H. P. Lovecraft and Lord Dunsany, Guillermo del Toro.

Del Toro was attached to direct a film adaptation of The Hobbit with Peter Jackson as producer—a prospect that thrilled fandom, and me in particular. But the legal problems of MGM have put The Hobbit into Purgatory, along with the James Bond series and a number of other projects such as the Red Dawn remake (which can stay in Purgatory as far as I’m concerned). Del Toro gracefully exited from directing in Middle-Earth.

Although I would have loved seeing del Toro’s vision of the monster-packed Tolkien novel, I wasn't upset to see him leave. He’s got too many great project ideas lined up to waste time waiting for MGM to officially just kill itself. And although I’m as hardcore a Tolkien fan as exists, The Hobbit isn’t as much a priority for me in the Professor's canon as The Lord of the Rings—and we've already got that. I can wait for The Hobbit, and it means del Toro is free to do . . .

The Haunted Mansion! In a move I simply did not see coming, Guillermo del Toro has announced that he’s producing and writing (although not necessarily directing) a new film based on Walt Disney’s theme park attractions. There was a previous movie, starring Eddie Murphy, which you probably didn’t see out of self-respect. Yes, it was a horrible kiddie comedy misfire. I actually watched it, although on Netflix. I’m not that insane. Some of the designs of the film stayed true to the Marc Davis look of the mansion interior and the various exteriors at the different parks (each location has distinct exterior look, but Walt Disneyland in Anaheim has my favorite, the decaying green plantation house), but the spirit of the flick was simply stupid gags à la Murphy's later career. It saddened me at the time that Disney hadn’t attempted a more sinister—while still fun—approach to the material, which keeps in tone with the ride itself. The brilliance of the attraction is that it balances genuine Gothic creepiness with jubilant black humor, and presents it with a cinematic control of vision, using the wonderful rotating “Doombuggies.”
When The Haunted Mansion came and went without generating much interest, even though it made a profit, I figured we had heard the last of it as a film property. Last night I was driving home and listening to the theme song from the ride, Buddy Baker and X. Atencio’s “Grim Grinning Ghosts,” and wondering what might have happened if somebody had really tried to capture the magic of the Disney attraction that has meant so much to the imaginations of so many. From my brainwaves to Comi-Com, I guess. Disney is willing to try again . . . and have a man who can do it justice at the helm. Del Toro is a Haunted Mansion fanatic, making annual pilgrimages to the most wonderful house in world, and has even themed a room of his own house after the mansion.

If I were rich enough, I’d have a themed room too. I’m also a Haunted Mansion nut. It’s my favorite theme park ride of all time, and the history and design of the mansion never cease to entertain me. One of my email addresses is even at “hauntedmansion.com.” My adoration of this ride is part of my love for the concept of the classic haunting tale, which is my favorite of all horror tropes. There’s a reason that The Haunting of Hill House is one of the key fictional works for me.

Some Guillermo del Toro fans have show some consternation about their favorite taking on a Disney brand, or “some amusement park ride movie.” Chill out, people—this is perfect material for our boy. It’s something he loves, its chocked with atmosphere, it spills with Gothic marvels, has plenty of roles for Doug Jones, and because of the open nature of the mansion's “story,” del Toro can fashion almost any kind of story that he wants with it for his script. This, along with the proposed adaptation of Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness and his proposed (but I think distant) take on Frankenstein, is the best thing I think Del Toro could tackle. I’m thrilled . . . a Guillermo Del Toro haunted house flick to terrify the whole family!

I’ll keep a watch out to see who will eventually take on the director’s job. I’m holding out that del Toro will change his mind and sit in the chair himself.