Wednesday, September 15, 2010

At the Precipice of Sadness?

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m having second thoughts about power duo Guillermo Del Toro and James Cameron’s upcoming film adaptation of At the Mountains of Madness. I’m a huge Lovecraft dork who would love finally see a good adaptation in an honest to goodness theatre (the only thing that disqualifies the marvelous HPLS version of Call of Cthulhu) and that team should be the ones to finally pull it off. Cameron has the clout to access a practically bottomless budget and Del Toro has the vision and imagination to pull off the look and feel. Still, I’m worried.


Let’s start with a comment Del Toro made regarding monsters in horror films on Deadline. It’s that “you have to keep the monster in black and white” that gives me shivers of potential rage. One of the things that makes it possible to get past the overbearingly dry presentation of Lovecraft’s prose and what makes his work truly great is the moral relativity he presents. None of the “monsters” can be easily classified as such, they are just too alien to humanity to be viewed with anything but panic. Larger than us, ancient beyond our ken and produced by wholly incalculable evolutions, they are things beyond our comprehension. That is what scares us, not any sense of inherent evil.

(this is one of the more relatable ones)
But there’s more. Even if I can get beyond what is a major philosophical roadblock (to me), there is the issue of the story itself. AtMoM, is far from Lovecraft’s best work and suffers from a major problem in relation to narrative: very little actually occurs. If translated literally, the audience will be following an archeologist as he wanders through the wreckage of a dead civilization. Sure, an elder thing destroys the base camp near the beginning and a Shoggoth chases our intrepid duo away at the end, but that is it. I am having a hard time imagining how someone would turn that into an enjoyable film without demolishing the original story.
(and we're walking...)
That ties into a central problem with adapting Lovecraft: he didn’t create satisfying narratives. Most of his stories were revelatory, ending when the curtains are pulled to the side and some hapless soul goes insane with the knowledge of unfathomed infinity. It makes for great short fiction, but the lack of a central conflict saps endurance out of a reader fairly quickly. This effect is multiplied a thousandfold with most moviegoers.

What I’m left with is something that may go directly against everything I love Lovecraft for while also alienating the vast majority of the public, who could give a rat’s ass about the man, with an overlong story about some guys walking through a cave.

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