What can we say? There were no new genre films being released to theaters this week, and Steve and Larry had schedules that prevented them from syncing up for a planned discussion of TWILIGHT ZONE episodes (we’ll try to do that at some other point).
So, instead, Dan sat down with his trusty microphone and a stack o’ news, and brings you up-to-date on what happened in genre in the past week and what’s coming to theaters and home video in the coming week.
Everything will be back to normal next week (relatively speaking). Until then, click on the player, and enjoy!
This time out, the Cinefantastique Round Table Podcast – the podcast of horror, fantasy, and science fiction films – devotes itself to two in-depth conversations. The first focuses on the subject of the MPAA ratings system and how it impacts horror movies, with their depictions of graphic violence. The second, inspired by the new book, Conversations with Michael Cricthon, takes a look at the best selling author’s contribution to the science fiction genre in literature on on film. CFQ editor Steve Biodrowski (whose interview with Crichton regarding JURASSIC PARK is in the book) is joined by San Francisco correspondent Lawrence French and New York correspondent Dan Persons.
Also this week: Farewell to James Arness; James Cameron on the AVATAR sequels (not a trilogy); Pierce Brosnan in Stephen King’s BAG OF BONES; and Ron Howard on THE DARK TOWER.
Deadline reports that former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is indeed signed to star in a new TERMINATOR film.
Major Hollywood agency CAA is shopping a film “package” that includes Schwarzenegger and currently hot director Justin Lin (FAST FIVE) to studios.
The article claims that Universal, Sony Pictures and Lionsgate are very interested in the project, though no script has yet been devised.
There may be some degree of urgency to the TERMINATOR franchise; in 2018 North American rights to the characters will technically revert to original writer/director James Cameron (and presumably producer/co-writer Gale Anne Hurd).
According to Deadline.com , Guillermo del Toro may have to leave his AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS project in favor of another production.
Frustrated with delays from Universal on greenlighting the big budget version of the H.P. Lovecraft novel-inspired movie, Del Toro may move on to Legendary Pictures PACIFIC RIM, a giant monster feature written by Travis Beacham (CLASH OF THE TITANS).
Despite James Cameron’s interest in producing the film, and Tom Cruise’s tentative agreement to star, Universal has been understandably hestiant to commit to a $150 Million dollar, R-rated Lovecraftian sci-fi/horror/adventure film. They’ve apparently been trying to get the movie scaled back in terms of budget and probable audience rating.
(This must be due to the script, as there is nothing in the original material that would call for an R-rating. Lovecraft was a fairly bloodless writer. His horrors were mainly disturbing conceptually, rather than viscerally.)
According to the article, if Guillermo del Toro doesn’t hear back from Universal by the end of today, he will go with Legendary Pictures, and try to go back to MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS after completing PACIFIC RIM — possibly at another studio.
UPDATED: Guillermo del Toro’s next film project will be PACIFIC RIM. At Deadline , he indicated he’d like to return to the Lovecraft project, down the road. He said:
“Frankly, I think we’ve come so close with Mountains that to me it’s an indicator of the great possibility we will get to make it, as soon as possible. As long as the idea stays fresh and no one beats me to it, in terms of the origins of the monsters, the scope and the aspect of Antarctica where these creatures are discovered, I will continue to press forward. I’m knocking on wood.
I have great partners in Jim Cameron and Lightstorm, and Don Murphy and Susan Montford, great partners in this adventure who are not giving up and not letting me give up.”
According to The Hollywood Reporter, James Cameron has signed a deal with 20th Century Fox to make AVATAR 2 and 3.
Production should start in 2011 for premeires in December 2014 and December 2015 in mind. Fox and James Cameron released a statement in which the director said:
“It is a rare and remarkable opportunity when a filmmaker gets to build a fantasy world, and watch it grow, with the resources and partnership of a global media company. AVATAR was conceived as an epic work of fantasy—a world that audiences could visit, across all media platforms, and this moment marks the launch of the next phase of that world.
With two new films on the drawing boards, my company (Lightstorm Entertainment) and I are embarking on an epic journey with our partners at Twentieth Century Fox. Our goal is to meet and exceed the global audience’s expectations for the richness of AVATAR’s visual world and the power of the storytelling.
In the second and third films, which will be self contained stories that also fulfill a greater story arc, we will not back off the throttle of AVATAR’s visual and emotional horsepower, and will continue to explore its themes and characters, which touched the hearts of audiences in all cultures around the world. I’m looking forward to returning to Pandora, a world where our imaginations can run wild.”
Recollections from the late actress on working with director James Whale on THE OLD DARK HOUSE and THE INVISIBLE MAN
Today’s mainstream audiences remember the late Gloria Stuart, who died on September 26, 2010, for the box office blockbuster TITANIC, but for cult fanatic and horror buffs the actress holds a special place in film history, having worked with FRANKENSTEIN-director James Whale on two of his classic horror pictures, THE OLD DARK HOUSE (1932) and THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933). In these films – more than in FRANKENSTEIN and, perhaps, even its sequel BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN – Whale indulged his penchant for sly humour, using the conventions of the horror genre as a springboard for satire and black comedy.
In both cases, Stuart had the possibly thankless task of’ playing the leading lady – that is, one of the normal characters whose lot on screen is to act as the equivalent of a straight man in a comedy team, while the eccentrics or the mad scientist gets all the good lines. Nevertheless, she managed to inject a little personality into her roles, and even garnered some of the laughs in THE OLD DARK HOUSE when her character, Margaret Waverton, alone and unprotected in the titular manse, notices the spooky shadows cast by the firelight – and instead of reacting in fear, proceeds to make a series of hand-shadows on the wall.
Gloria Stuart started her film career in the early 1930s as a contract player at Universal Pictures, the studio where Whale had made FRANKENSTEIN. Her third picture was THE OLD DARK HOUSE, which is one of the earliest examples from the sound era of the now-familiar archetypal horror film plot: a group of innocent travelers is forced to take shelter in a scary house filled with strange characters, in this case the Femms, a family ranging from the eccentric (Ernest Thesiger and Eva Moore as brother and sister Horace and Rebecca) to the threatening (Boris Karloff as their butler) to the outright homicidal (Brember Wills as Said).
Rather like her character in TITANIC, Stuart had vivid memory of events from decades past. Of her stint on THE OLD DARK HOUSE, she recalled:
“It was wonderful working with James. He was brilliant. He came on the set every morning with the script, and on the blank side he had all the setups that he’d pencilled in the night before. It was very precise. He knew exactly what he wanted, which in those days for film directors was not usual, because most of them had been silent directors. They weren’t used to dialogue, and they weren’t used to directing dialogue; they were used to directing silent action. So it was refreshing working with him, particularly because I wanted to be a stage actress, and I was very snobbish about film. I felt I was slumming, but I need the money, and the money was in film.”
Although Stuart respected Whale as a director, she did not always understand the method to his madness. For example, when she and her compatriots first take shelter in the Femm household, Margaret Waverton changes from her wet clothes into a fancy evening dress, not at all suited to her gloomy surroundings.
“The gown was bias-cut, very pale pink silk-velvet,” she explained. “I said to James, ‘We come in out of the rain; we’re muddy; we’re tired. It’s late. And I change into this pale pink dress with jewellery. Why?’ He said, ‘Because, Gloria, when Boris chases you through the house, I want you to appear like a white flame.’ I said, ‘Okay, I’m a white flame, but I still don’t understand it.’ That’s how precise he was. When I change and get down to my chemise,” she adds with a laugh, “I had a big audience on the set.”
Stuart credited Whale for adding humour to the film, a sort of tongue-in-cheek comic relief that plays off the awkward social tension in the scenario – for instance, Horace Femm’s forced civility at the dinner table, when he practically demands that each guest eat a potato.
“Ernest Thesiger was one of the great character actors,” said Stuart. “When he says, ‘Have a po-ta-to,’ and when he throws the bouquet of flowers into the fireplace, that’s all James. All those very sardonic, witty points of view and presentations – all James, not in the script. He was a wonderful man to work for.”
Stuart also credited the film with inspiring the creation of the Screen Actors Guild of America. She and Melvyn Douglas were the only US citizens in the cast; Karloff, Thesiger, Moore, Charles Laughton, Raymond Massey and Lillian Bond were English, and during production the Americans got a glimpse at how actors were treated outside Hollywood.
“THE OLD DARK HOUSE is the reason that you have SAG, with almost a million members,” Stuart claimed. “It was a wonderful happenstance. James imported all the English actors, with the exception of Melvyn Douglas, who had just come from the New York Theatre, and me.”
Stuart and Douglas noted that the English cast broke for tea at eleven and four each day – an option not offered to the two Americans.
“James joined all the English actors,” Stuart recalled. “So on one side of the set they had their ‘elevensies’ and `foursies,’ and Melvyn and I would be sitting together, not invited. One day, Melvyn said to me, `Are you interested in forming a union together?’ I said, ‘What’s a union?’ He said, ‘Like in New York – Actor’s Equity. The actors get together and work for better working conditions.’ I said, ‘Oh wonderful,’ because I was getting up at five every morning; in makeup at seven, in hair at eight, wardrobe at quarter of nine, and then sometimes if production wanted you to, you worked until four or five the next morning. There was no overtime. They fed us when they felt like it, when it was convenient for production. It was really very, very hard work. He said, `We’ll have a meeting, and we’ll try to get overtime, eight hour days, eight hours in between for ourselves.’ So I started working as an organizer for SAG. Actually, my union number is 183, because I was so busy canvassing and getting others to join, that I forgot to join myself. Anyway, I’m one of the few remaining founders of the Guild. That’s one reason I’m very grateful to THE OLD DARK HOUSE. I thank that English cast for having their elevensies and foursies.”
Afterward, Stuart appeared in several non-horror films at Universal, including one directed by Whale called KISS BEFORE THE MIRROR, which, according to Stuart “was considered very sexy in those days, but believe me, it wasn’t!”
Then in 1933 she played the fiancee of Jack Griffin, the ambitious scientist whose experiments turned him into THE INVISIBLE MAN. The titular role was essayed by Claude Rains; it marked his first “appearance” in film, although his face was not seen unti the final fadeout. THE INVISIBLE MAN also featured Una O’Connor in a supporting role; her over-the-top hysterical reactions to the strange happenings play like a preview of her similar role in Whale’s THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN.
Stuart characterized the shooting as “an extraordinary experience,” adding that “we werent’ allowed on the set when Claude became invisible, and it was a very big thing on the Universal lot. There’s a reat deal of wit in ths picture, especially O’Connor.”
Despite the invisibility of his character, Rains did work with Stuart, during scenes in which Griffin is clothed, with his head wrapped in surgical bandage and his eyes covered with dark glasses.
“Claude had not made any films up until this time; he came from the New York stage,” said Stuart. “He was what we call ‘an actor’s actor.’ He was completely involved in being an actor, which doesn’t make for fun and games on the set. Besides,” she laughed, “he was shorter than I was, so either he was on a platform, or I was in a trough.”
Stuart found that Rains employed a few tricks he had learned on stage ot keep audience attention focused on himself, but thanks to the medium of film she managed to hold her own.
“On the stage, whatever happens goes that night, and you don’t go back and do it over again,” she explained. “The first day of shooting on the film, Claude and I had a scene together, and he would upstage me. He would take me [by the arm] and all of a sudden he’s with his full face to the camera, and I had my back to the camera. I stopped in the middle of filming – you don’t do that with Whale; he was a very strict disciplinarian – and I said, ‘James, look what he’s doing to me’ He said, ‘This is movies, not the theatre, and if we don’t get it right the first time, we can do it over again and again.’ Rains said, ‘Oh, I’m sorry. Oh, Miss Stuart, please forgive me.’ I said, ‘It’s all right, Mr. Rains.’ The next take he was upstaging me again. I didn’t have to stop; James stopped it.
The final take features Stuart and Rains evenly blanace din the shot. “So our relationship during the – I guess it was normal between an actor’s actor and – well, I hope I’m not an actor’s actress,” laughed Stuart.
THE INVISIBLE MAN turned out to be Stuart’s last picture with Whale. Shortly thereafter, Universal sold her contract to Columbia Pictures, and she went onto appear in such films as Busby Berkeley’s GOLD DIGGERS OF 1935 (sort of the MOULIN ROUGE of its day) before retiring in the mid-1940s. During the decades that followed, she tried her hand at painting, and even learned to work a printing press in order to publish her artwork in coffee table books. Then – the mid-1970s, she started acting again, mostly in made-for-television movies like THE LEGEND OF LIZZIE BORDEN and TWO WORLDS OF JENNIE LOGAN, although she did appear in some theatrical films (including MY FAVORITE YEAR). Finally. in 1997, she gave an Oscar-nominated performance in TITANIC.
“For thirty-three years I’d been in the past, you might say, and Cameron brought me back,” Stuart recounted. “It changed my life completely. I was so reclusive, working hard with painting and printing. What happens to an Academy nominee is unbelievable. One day in my patio and on my front yard, there must have been four companies with cameras and lights setting up to interview me about ‘How does it feel to be an Academy nominee.’ After that. I’ve done so much in the last six years that I feel like I’m back in the business; I’ve become more active in the Screen Actors Guild, too. In my old age, I feel that anything I can do to help. I would like to.”
Looking back on her films, Gloria Stuart considered her two favorites to be THE OLD DARK HOUSE and TITANIC (“naturally”), but she seemed prouder of her work in the 1997 Oscar-winner. As for the older film, she gave all credit to the director.
“James Whale is a cult figure in England, and I think he should be here in the United States, too,” she said. “All of his films have great individuality; all of his films are imaginative and witty. He was an actor and a cartoonist, and a newspaper man. He brought all of his talent and his taste to film. I think that of all the directors I’ve worked for – with the exception of James Cameroa, who is a writer, a director, a producer, everything – James was the most wonderful man that I’ve worked with. He knew exactly what he wanted, having been an actor – which none of the other directors that I worked with had been. It’s very difficult, as an actor; if the director can’t tell you what he wants.”
This is a revised version of an article that originally appeared in 2003. Copyright by Steve Biodrowski.
This week’s edition of the Cinefantastique Post-Mortem Podcast delves into the immersive cinematic world of James Cameron’s AVATAR: THE SPECIAL EDITION, whose re-release in theatres gives audiences a chance to enjoy what 3-D can be, when it’s not slapped on in post-production. Also on the table: the upcoming documentary, 2001: BEYOND THE INFINITE — THE MAKING OF A MASTERPIECE, in which Oscar-winning effects expert Douglas Trumbull, himself a veteran of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, will delve behind the scenes of Stanley Kubrick’s science fiction masterpiece .
A very disturbing report from the Temple of Ghoul blog indicates that a leaked draft of the script to Guillermo del Toro’s planned film version of H. P. Lovecraft’s At The Mountains of Madness has turned the slow-building novel of cosmic horror and humbling revelation of man’s place in the universe into a violent, action-adventure monster fest.
Dejan Ognjanović wrote “…It feels like a HELLBOY movie without Hellboy, with a light dose of Carpenter’s THE THING.”
The THING comparsion is to be expected, as many readers (myself included) have felt that John W. Campbell’s Who Goes There (the basis of THE THING), was inspired by Lovecraft’s tale, as his example of how to tell that kind of story properly.
At The Mountains of Madness’s 1936 serialization was very controversial among science fiction fans of the period, and Campbell — who would later become editor of ASTOUNDNG STORIES and the fantasy magazine UNKNOWN— would specifically prohibit stories in Lovecraft’s style.
Apparently, the script for AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS updates the era of the story of to the 1930’s, with a frame taking place in 1939. One of the survivors of the first 1930 expedition tries to dissuade the leader of a new Antarctic expedition from returning to the site, and we flashback to the meat of the tale. This does in fact mirror the structure of the original.
However. in this script the discovery of the Elder Things, which we learn were the rulers of Earth in the primeval past is not the focus. Instead, their servants, the protoplasmic shoggoths, take center stage. They fill the place of the shape-shifting, self replicating alien of John W. Campbell’s story. Rampaging monsters and bloody mayhem escalate the horror quotient, building to a climax that reportedly includes the appearance of a Cthulhu-like minor Mythos diety (and identified as Cthulhu itself in the draft Ognjanović read).
Guillermo del Toro’s description that his version of the film needed to be R-rated was a warning sign, as there’s really nothing in the Lovecraft original that would be likely to garner more than a PG-13.
This script might make an interesting sci-fi/horror thriller, but it’s sure not anything old HPL would have approved. Why adapt a classic of the genre if you have no intention of following the spirit of the story? Why not just make your own film “inspired” by the works of H.P. Lovecraft?
Perhaps the fact that there’s a “prequel’ to THE THING already in the pipeline might cause the filmmakers (including James Cameron as a producer) to give more thought to the emphasis and nature of the film. Who needs two shape-shifting alien menaces in a frozen setting competing with each other? It’s likely to give the public the feeling that AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS is the copy, rather than the original.
James Cameron gave an an interview to the MTV Movie Blog, in which he discusses future plans for the mega-successful AVATAR franchise. No deals have been signed, and no definite plans have been set, but Cameron is developing ideas: in a nutshell, he wants to complete a novelization of AVATAR before making another film. In adapting his story to the print medium, Cameron’s plan is not to simply translate the screenplay into prose; he wants to flesh out the story with background and details about the characters and their world that will lay the foundation for the expected sequels.
“I never had a chance to get the novel done while we were making the movie, and I always intended to. I didn’t want to do a cheesy novelization, where some hack comes in and kind of makes s–t up. I wanted to do something that was a legitimate novel that was inside the characters’ heads and didn’t have the wrong culture stuff, the wrong language stuff, all that.”
Once the novel is out there, Cameron hopes that others will help him in further fleshing out the universe. There are simply key bits of the ongoing story, such as the happenings on Earth and Jake & Grace’s personal arcs, that he wants to make sure are developed in specific ways. “I don’t mind opening the universe, but I just don’t want that to happen until I’ve got more meat on the bones. … That all needs to be filled in before other writers can come in and run with it.”
After finishing the novel, Cameron plans to turn AVATAR into a trilogy, possibly filming two sequels simultaneously. The computer-generated nature of AVATAR’s world should make this process easier, because the motion-capture performances of the cast can be shot relatively quickly, with the backgrounds and scenery being added later.
Over at Deadline New York, Mike Fleming suggests that Guillermo Del Toro’s next directorial effort with be his long-in-gestation adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s novel At the Mountains of Madness, with – get this – James Cameron producing. If true, the news is certainly a welcome surprise; only last month, Del Toro was saying that the project was as frozen in limbo as the Old Ones trapped in the Antarctic ice of Lovecraft’s tale.
But is it true? Fleming is far from conclusive, writing:
I’m hearing he will next direct At The Mountains Of Madness, an adaptation of the HP Lovecraft tale that will be shot as a 3D film for Universal Pictures. The big surprise is that Avatar director James Cameron will come aboard as a producer. Del Toro was non-committal when I asked him about the prospect of Mountains days ago as we discussed the Comic-Con reaction to Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. But when del Toro announced at Comic-Con he’d cowrite and produce Haunted Mansion, he told the crowd he’d set his next film shortly, and that it would be scary. At the Mountains of Madness fits that bill…
The language is a bit hedged (“I’m hearing…”). Also, it contradicts Variety’s report that Del Toro would direct THE HAUNTED MANSION for Walt Disney Pictures, not merely produce and co-write. Still, we can hope? As tantalizing as is the prospect of Del Toro-directed HAUNTED MANSION, far more awesome in the scope of its eldritch grandeur would be an arcane exploration of the vast subterranean citadel situated beneath the hoary Plateau of Leng, where the wind gibbers and fulminates with secrets no mere mortal mind dare grasp without fear of mental obliteration.
Let’s all lean back and give out an optimistically triumphant shout of “Tekeli-li! Tekeli-li!“