Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: The green light process on At the Mountains of Madness with Universal Pictures has gone on for so long that there is now a very serious rival for director Guillermo del Toro’s next film. I’m hearing that Legendary Pictures is moving fast on a project del Toro likes called Pacific Rim, a Travis Beacham-scripted PG-13 tent pole-sized project with big monsters and the creation of a new world. It could very well be the next film del Toro directs. That picture was developed independent of Warner Bros, and relatively under the radar by Legendary chief executives Thomas Tull and Jon Jashni. Del Toro has been in the loop through this process. He and Beacham  almost worked together in the past when the director flirted with The Killing on Carnival Row at New Line. The Legendary-del Toro relationship dates back through the 8 months they put into Pacific Rim.

Universal has been balking over the $150 million budget and R rating on At the Mountain of Madness, the adaptation of the HP Lovecraft tale that revolves around the discovery of thawing alien beings in Antarctica. This despite the fact that del Toro had Tom Cruise ready to star in the film, with James Cameron producing with Don Murphy and Susan Montford, and Cameron god-fathering the 3D process. Del Toro and his team have delivered a stunning visual presentation that met the studio’s budget specifications, but I’m told the studio is still wary about the R rating and price. It’s just a very hard decision. The film is more horror than action adventure and i’m told it would have to generate $500 million in worldwide grosses for the studio to earn its money back. That means it would have to be a Lord of the Rings or Inception kind of achievement, which is a lot of performance pressure to place on an R-rated horror film. I’m told Universal is hanging onto the film in hopes of returning to it, but that the studio is expecting for del Toro to move on to Pacific Rim. I’ve heard that del Toro has asked for an answer by end of business today from Universal, or he is moving on.

It’s a very tough development for del Toro. At the Mountains of Madness is his dream project, one he’s collaborated on with Murphy and Montford for a long time. But after spending several years co-writing The Hobbit and then stepping away from directing the two pictures because it looked like MGM’s financial travails would never end. Ironically, The Hobbit is shooting with Peter Jackson at the helm and del Toro is not. The filmmaker needs to get behind the camera and the clock keeps ticking. He was supposed to have been given an answer before the end of 2010, but the process has stretched and stretched. The studio, which is under scrutiny of new Comcast owners and already has a very expensive alien project in Battleship, wasn’t pulling the trigger. The filmmakers are trying to salvage Mountains by placing it at another studio, and that behind the scenes drama is still playing out. Because of the Cameron relationship, one obvious discussion is Fox.

If this comes to pass, I’m told that del Toro would try to return and do Mountains right after. The hope is that the studio will be in a better place or they will figure out a way to make it PG-13 or for less money than it’s at right now. Stay tuned.

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