Peter Jackson's "The Hobbit" looks like it may finally begin filming soon, now that the cast has been announced, the labor issues are getting resolved, and rights-holder MGM is likely to merge with Lionsgate and finally emerge from limbo. Hopefully it will be a chance for Jackson to improve on his last film, the underwhelming "The Lovely Bones." However, the news also marks the advancement of yet another project that Guillermo del Toro, who had been tapped to helm "The Hobbit" up until a few months ago, is not directing. I was at the Comic Con Disney panel this summer, where Del Toro appeared to confirm his involvement in the new "Haunted Mansion" reboot. A few days later, it was clarified that Del Toro would be producing and possibly writing, but would not direct. Finally, at the end of September, he announced that he would direct an adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's "At the Mountains of Madness," for Universal, to be produced by James Cameron.
But first, he needs to finish writing "Trollhunters" and stump for "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark," the horror film that Disney recently delayed. Del Toro is also associated with at least a dozen other future film projects, including new versions of "Pinocchio," "Tarzan," "Frankenstein," "Van Helsing," "The Witches," and "Slaughterhouse Five." He's also involved with feature adaptations of the upcoming novel "Drood," the comic "Deadman," the animated short "Alma," and original projects "Saturn and the End of Days" and "The Coffin." Of course many fans are still hopeful that a third "Hellboy" movie is still a possibility. Personally, I'm the most interested in the third film in his planned "Spanish Civil War" trilogy, tentatively titled "3993," which would follow 2001's "The Devil's Backbone" and 2006's "Pan's Labyrinth."
There's no telling which of these films are actually going to be made. One of the older projects that I was looking forward to was "Domu," the Katsuhiro Otomo manga that Del Toro was reportedly dying to adapt back in the late 90s. It doesn't get mentioned on any of the lists of Del Toro's upcoming films anymore. Many of the others that he's producing are those that Del Toro was initially planning to direct and ended up passing on to other directors. Some have suggested that he's been overwhelmed by the wealth of opportunities that opened up to him after the success of "Pan's Labyrinth" in 2007. The last film that Guillermo del Toro actually directed was "Hellboy: The Golden Army," which was released in the summer of 2008. Looking at his current slate, his next will be "At the Mountains of Madness," which is projected for sometime in 2012.
Four years isn't a huge gap between films for a director. James Cameron, for instance, took twelve years between "Titanic" and "Avatar," with a few documentaries during the interval to remind us he was still around. However, the size of the slate that Del Toro is taking on has many observers raising eyebrows, and so many of the titles are fanboy-friendly that the hype and anticipation surrounding his projects keeps growing. The longer the gap grows between Del Toro's last film and the next, the greater the expectations. "The Hobbit" situation was a setback that wasn't his fault, but I'm worried that since Del Toro's next will be a pet horror project based on non-mainstream material, he may be setting himself up for a fall.
Because Del Toro hasn't spent the capital from his triumph with "Pan's Labyrinth," he hasn't really had his chance to put a film forward based on the strength of his own name. He's lent his name to promote smaller films like "The Orphanage," and the "Hellboy" sequel highlighted him as director, but there hasn't been anything that's felt like a true follow-up to "Labyrinth." I think this is because Del Toro as a director feels like one of his beloved monsters, namely Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. His more commercial films like "Blade II," "Mimic," and the "Hellboy" films are decent, but feel very different from his weightier, more impressive Spanish language projects, where he has more creative freedom. I'm still waiting to see Del Toro truly unleashed on a mainstream film, but on the other hand I'm not sure if that's such a good idea.
I found "Hellboy: The Golden Army" disappointing compared to the original, and I wonder whether it's because Del Toro had fewer constraints. There were clear signs that he got too bogged down in the gorgeous visuals and neglected the script. The film was a bad clash between his two different sensibilities, with tonal issues all over the place. Will Del Toro improve upon his next outing? Will he bomb? The added pressure of growing expectations is just going to get worse the longer he's absent from theater screens, and would compound any perceived failure. On the other hand, I doubt a bomb or two would be the end of Del Toro. Audiences are nothing if not forgiving, and they have notoriously short memories, as the career of M. Night Shyamalan proves.
Not that I think Guillermo del Toro should be compared to M. Night Shyamalan, or even Peter Jackson. One thing Del Toro has in his favor is that he's been working in Hollywood for a good long while, and "Pan's Labyrinth" wasn't his first major film or even his fifth. He's already has his ups and downs, and I think that's what we'll continue to see from him in the future.
We'll just have to wait (and wait, and wait) and see.