This week was heartbreaking for Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro and his loyal following. After months of pre-production development, the director has reluctantly walked away from the Universal picture At the Mountains of Madness, a passion project for del Toro that dates back to at least 1993 when the fantasy enthusiast began sketching his take on the beloved H.P. Lovecraft novella.
Despite having James Cameron on board as a producer and Tom Cruise lined up to star, studio executives were unwilling to budge on the strict PG-13 rating requirement. Del Toro firmly believed in an “R” to properly unravel the intense narrative. Unfortunately, the two sides were unable to come to an agreement. Hopefully, the creative team can reposition the horror film at another studio, but, for now, Guillermo del Toro’s adaptation of At the Mountains of Madness is dead.
In the wake of the collapsed project, Guillermo del Toro announced his next film will be Pacific Rim, a PG-13 movie aiming for a 2013 release set up at Legendary Pictures and written by top-notch screenwriter Travis Beacham. Del Toro has flirted with a Beacham script before, namely The Killing on Carnival Row, one of my all-time favorite screenplays about a murder mystery in the chimerical world of faeries, vampires, dwarves, werewolves, seal-people, and other oddities.
However, not much is known about Pacific Rim yet, other than it’s about giant monsters and will allow del Toro to create a “new world” of beastly creatures. That’s only halfway accurate. This project will give the Hellboy filmmaker the opportunity to create two worlds.
The first is an alternate version of Earth in the near future, decades after a historic date in November 2012 when the first kaiju, a towering Godzilla-like beast, emerged from a hole in the Pacific Ocean and attacked the city of Osaka, Japan. The second is “The Anteverse,” another universe on the other side of that gaping portal, 5 miles below our ocean’s surface.
Since the first attack, the rim has been “spitting out” a variety of gigantic monsters at an increasing rate, which then stride out of the ocean and begin destroying sea-bordering cities, like Tokyo and Los Angeles. In order to combat these monstrous, otherworldly menaces, the military developed the “Jaeger” program, which trains teams of two pilots to jointly operate massive, building-sized mechanized suits of armor and high-tech weaponry.
Within the first act alone, we are given enough detailed background on the god-like Jaeger systems, its shared neural piloting system (called “pons”), and the relentless beasts. But Beacham is an absolute master at immediately establishing characters and their conflicts.
The central character is Raleigh Antrobus, 23, a skilled Jaeger pilot still wrestling emotionally with the loss of his co-pilot and biological brother, Yance, during a mission a year earlier. The ordeal has wreaked havoc on his mind spirit, leaving him with ghostly nightmares of the battle from the shared “pons” experience. After the initial setup, the damaged hero is recruited to re-join the task force in Tokyo, where pilots are in demand, and team with a fellow “leftover,” 22-year-old female Japanese pilot Mako Mori. Naturally, the language barrier (among other things) presents an issue for the out-of-sync duo, meaning an even steeper learning curve for the unprecedented pairing.
Meanwhile, Felicity “Flick” Kincaid, a journalist and Yance’s former fiancée, circles the globe (ours) to discover answers about this mysterious rift and the origins of its intensifying threat.
Without ruining any more surprises (past the first act), there are several different species of towering kaiju, each with their own unique characteristics, and the clashes between monster and machine are epic in scale. Beacham has even developed his own glossary and lingo for his characters, a blend of scientific and military jargon used to describe the elements of this fully fleshed out reality, much like the shorthand in Cameron’s Avatar or the developing mecha-warrior versus aliens movie All You Need is Kill.
The concept and Beacham’s script are unbelievable. With the right budget and creative control, this could very well be Guillermo del Toro’s Jurassic Park, a visual marvel with a pseudo-science backbone and massive, kaiju-sized appeal. Hell yes. Bring it on.