My final day at the LA Film Festival was also my most
anticipated. It was a free panel event:
an interview with director Guillermo Del Toro.
One of the most imaginative minds working in the Hollywood
system today, Del Toro has proven that dark fantasy is alive and well in the
storytelling world. Cronos, Mimic, Blade II, Hellboy, The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’sLabyrinth- his
filmography is a veritable smorgasbord of fantastical and imaginative worlds brutally
combined with the horrors of reality.
Like many of you, I became acquainted with Del Toro after
watching Blade II. While not his best
film, it is one that proved to be totally different than its predecessor and
took it in a different direction, as all good sequels should do. After that, I began to search for his
Spanish language films; films made outside of the studio system, where the
director was given free reign over every creative aspect of his film. Cronos is a fun little take on the vampire
mythos, while The Devil’s Backbone became his first mature foray into
clashing the fantastic and realistic, with sometimes brutal effect.
Suddenly I began to hear his name more and more. Since I am an admirer of H.P. Lovecraft’s
literature, Del Toro’s name was soon uttered in the same sentence as the
author, simply because there were growing rumors that he would direct the
long-awaited adaptation of In The Mountains of Madness. While legions of fans still wait for that
adaptation with baited breath, Del Toro has gone on to prove that he is indeed
the right man for the job. And it all
started with an obscure comic book about a reject from hell.
Hellboy was a comic that was widely unknown to me. It had the dubious honor of being released
at a time in which Hollywood was beginning to acknowledge the potential of
comic book adaptations, due mostly in part to the success of X-Men and Spider-Man. Strong, interesting
characters, shades of Universal monsters, oodles of imagination- Hellboy
proved to be perfectly tailored to Del Toro’s vision. As soon as I watched the film, I immediately realized what all
the internet geek buzz around Del Toro was about. He was one of us who simply made it big; an imagination that
knows no boundaries given the budget and the freedom (sometimes) to tell
Hellboy opened a lot of doors for the director and
(thankfully) introduced a new generation of filmgoers to the greatness that is
Ron Perlman. Almost overnight, Del Toro
was being offered film projects left, right and center. But he is a man who sticks to his guns, even
under extreme pressure and supreme enticement; rumor has it, Del Toro turned
down the opportunity to direct one of the Harry Potter pictures so he could work on Hellboy.
And then Pan’s Labyrinth came around. When I saw the film at the 2006 Toronto
International Film Festival, I was absolutely floored just after my first
viewing. The worlds, the characters,
the creatures, the mythology, the Pale Man (!)- this was the work of a filmmaker
at the top of his game. It was also the
first time I met Del Toro in person.
After screening the film at the Elgin Theater, Del Toro welcomed fans
and autographed anything and everything.
What impressed me most is that he pretty much ignored his assistant who
kept urging him to hurry up for dinner.
Del Toro would push the assistant aside and welcome a new fan. After a couple of minutes, I got to meet
him. I simply asked him: “Is it true
that you and Warner are working on a remake of The Witches?” He nodded excitedly and said, “Fucking right
Pan’s Labyrinth became a huge success all over the world,
bringing Del Toro almost universal acclaim.
As to be expected, he was flooded with offers from different studios,
all wanting to work with the filmmaker.
For his next project, he decided to set up at Universal. It was the inevitable sequel to one of his
most popular films. Its title: Hellboy
II: The Golden Army. Which brings me
to what I experienced at the LA Film Festival. Hellboy II had its world premiere at the festival, and while I didn’t
have the opportunity to see it, I made sure I got into the panel discussion
with the filmmaker. 60 minutes
listening to this madman talk about films?
Count me in!
And I was not disappointed.
As to be expected, for the first half of the panel, he discussed Hellboy II and all that he went through in order to have it made. And then, out of nowhere, the discussion
went in another direction; one that I didn’t think they would address. At least, not this soon.
The filmmaker’s involvement with The Hobbit still comes as
quite a surprise to me. I’m not saying
he’s wrong for the job; it’s just that, his interests vary slightly from Peter
Jackson’s. And if the studio wants any
sort of continuity at all, perhaps they should’ve hired someone more akin to
Jackson’s filmic characteristics. Add
to the fact that Del Toro is a very opinioned filmmaker whose work is
exclusively his and his alone. But as I
sat in the theater and heard him describe his plans for the prequel (of course,
not in detail), I quickly changed my mind.
I don’t know how they’re going to pull it off, but something inside of
me feels that Del Toro’s vision is going to be 100% his own, but also adhere to
the worlds that Jackson created in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. And what really sold me, is that Del Toro
vehemently stated that, by the time he finishes working on The Hobbit, if
there isn’t a story left to tell in order to create the narrative for the
rumored “companion piece” to bridge The Hobbit with the Lord of the Rings,
then he will happily walk away. That
right there is someone that the movie going audience loves, but the studios
worry about. You don’t have to like the
films he makes, but it’s pretty hard to ignore the charisma and business savvy intelligence
that he carries. He knows who his core
audience is, and attempts to appeal to them first before making his way to the
general audience. But above all, he
stays true to himself. He knows his
strengths and weaknesses, which is a sign of a great storyteller.
Guillermo Del Toro is a dying breed of filmmaker; one who
makes films that appeal to himself first and the audience second. His filmography, while not perfect, reveals
an artist who taps into the collective conscience of moviegoers. Every film that carries his name is a treat,
which in this day and age, says a lot.
I am sort of torn when it comes to The Hobbit. On one hand, in four years time we’ll be receiving
a great fantasy epic by one of the most visionary directors out there. On the other hand, for four years, we’ll be
without a new Del Toro picture. After
what I experienced at the panel, I have no doubt that Del Toro will produce
something of the utmost quality.
I only have one request: after The Hobbit, Del Toro should
live his dream and bring In The Mountains of Madness to the big screen. The audience is waiting.