Friday, 6 August 2010

Mountains of Madness - then or now?

As we all know, Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy, Pan's Labyrinth) is at the wheel for the movie adaptation of At the Mountains of Madness, HPL's classic tale of where not to go on your skiing holiday. Good news for Lovecraft fans, even if his co-pilot on this project is James 'Titanic and Avatar' Cameron.

I was all a-go for this until a thought struck me - I'd assumed that any film of the book would be set in the 1930s where it belonged but how do we know that's what would happen? Would it actually work if updated to the present day?

If we really wanted a modern version of AtMoM, we've got John Carpenter's The Thing and Aliens v Predator (the similarities between those and Mountains are manifold, although there are, of course, big differences).

I watched Jackson's King Kong the other day (eeeew, big worms, must use for next CoC adventure!) and he has very faithfully recreated the world of 1933. The original was a work of its time but I'm sure we all remember (although we try to forget) the 1976 version with Kong on the World Trade Centre (perhaps that's why it doesn't get shown much these days) fending off jet fighters.

For me, part if not all of the attraction of HPL is the (to us) period setting - am I alone in thinking that if del Toro and Cameron update the story, it would somehow lose something?

I've set up a poll on the matter - let me know what you think and vote for your preferred option.


  1. If it were Moffatt, Gatiss and Thompson writing the screenplay, I might have said 'modern'...

  2. I had no idea such a film production was underway! Always my favourite of the HPL works.

    I can't honestly see this working in a modern day setting as much of the idea was that nobody had ever been to this part of the Antarctic, nor flown over in an aircraft - it was literally unmapped land.

    What would a modern day version be like? Scientists spotting strange cyclopean stone forms via Google Earth? Wouldn't bother going to the cinema for that one!

  3. We don’t know for sure what would happen, but del Toro has said that he wants to do Mountains of Madness right, and that includes (a) a period piece, and (b) no love interest other than the quest for exploration. Both topics tend to come up in interviews when del Toro is asked why the project doesn’t get much traction from movie execs.

    “…the first conversation I always have is, ‘Does it have to be R?’ and I go, ‘Yes.’ ‘Does it have to be period? Does it have to be Antarctica?’ ‘Yes.’”

    “ATMOM is a delicate project to push through a studio: no love interest, no female characters, no happy ending…”

  4. My gut reaction is of course period piece in setting, but without the sort of cliched, stilted "this-is-how-people-acted-in-the-30s" type of dialog and acting (e.g., Carnivale).

    On the other hand, I could see a modern setting being worked out along the lines of John Carpenter's remake of The Thing, also set in Antarctica and also in the milieu of a scientific expedition. Also no love interest. But the Google earth thing is a real limitation.

  5. @Jerry - that's reassuring news.

    @Brendan - I agree; there are ways to overcome that and I think that Jackson did quite well with KK. Essentially, The Thing is a AtMoM remake, if you think about it. No happy ending there, as far as I can recall.

    It'll be interesting to see how they work with HPL's plot structure, which is basically set-up, arrival, have a bit of a nosey-round and then a lot of off-screen happenings (Lake's radio broadcasts), the flight to the camp and discovery of what's there and then Dyer and Danforth with a very long exploration sequence and no real action per se - it's just a way that HPL gets the central premise of the story in by way of the hieroglyphs. Will this make a good film or will del Toro have to extrapolate from that to make a cinematically workable version, much as the Narnia film writers had to do with CSL?

    For myself, if del Toro gets it right and the film is as faithful as it can be, I'll pledge to see it not once but twice (if only to show the studio bosses that there is a market for this sort of thing done right and we want more).

  6. You know I'm all for period setting seeing as you conjure it up so vividly for all of us. However after Biopunk's comment I'm not so sure!

    I voted period but I can understand why the film makers would go for modern, people (non HPL afficionados I'm talking) like the familiar to then be spooked up and weird, not the distant - be that distance by time or location. It would probably be stretching credibility a little too far. If there aren't attractive teens and twentysomethings in it's already losing money.

  7. Hmm, good points, but then we had The Mummy (period piece) the aforementioned King Kong (period piece) Indiana Jones (period piece) to name but a few. Yeah, they had the conventional love interest, PYTs (pretty young things) so the bleakness and lack of a happy ending might be a bit hard to sell. There are quite a lot of grad students (seven) in the book so there's your youngsters. We know that Dyer is in his fifties but I'd envisaged Danforth and Lake as younger.


    If it were me doing the writing, I'd keep the focus on Lake's camp right up to the point at which things start to go wrong and maybe have Dyer as a side-player. Then switch to Dyer frantically waiting for replies and then the flight out to Lake's camp to see what had happened.

    How to make the exploration of the city more than just a slog through an empty labyrinth is the tricky bit. Yeah, I know what's waiting for them but there's a lot of wandering round without anything (as such) happening beforehand.

    For my part, I'm getting excited just thinking about sitting in a cinema watching another film and then the trailer for AtMoM comes up, presumably opening with bleak Antarctic wastes.

    PS dear Mr del Toro, can I put in a request for you to do The Call of Cthulhu if AtMoM is a success?

  8. Period piece definitely........says he who originally didnt want to do 1920s Cthulhu.
    The less technology available the better.

  9. I guarantee it will be period. del Toro will want to do it period. The script treatment that is supposedly by him, and it seems to have been confirmed he did one, that is floating around the internet, is period.

    And that will be fine. But it would work if it wasn't period. People have far too much belief in what technology today can do, such as the Google Earth comment above (I'm not trying to be rude, just pointing it out as a common response, and one I can understand). But it's the same sort of attitude that in Call of Cthulhu gaming thinks that cell phones will kill the suspense. Try this for an exercise: go reread The Dunwich Horror. They had telephones in their houses. They played a prominent role in scenes of horror at their houses. Did they provide any security or help at all? Did they instead perhaps make the inhabitants of those houses more likely to sit inside in a sense of false security because they could phone out? Did those phone calls ramp up the tension and horror for the reader? You see my point.

    But above all, if you don't think an adventure could be cobbled out of a modern day Antarctic exploration, then I urge you to watch the video at the link.

    Larger context

    Actual video link

    I actually don't get any thrill out of the 1920s/1930s period of Call of Cthulhu, and almost universally run it as modern today when I do run it. For me, the technology usually gets characters in more trouble, not less, it feels more immediate, and that layer of historical uncertainty doesn't add to the unreality. At the same time, I don't feel the need to signify so hard that "This is modern, it must be modern zeitgeist themes!" to change the game into something else. Has a few decades of technological change really made any difference when it comes to dealing with immortal transdimensional beings that arrived from the stars 300,000,000 years ago?