Del Toro’s Madness, Ruffalo is Hulk, and more news

GUILLERMO DEL TORO has landed on his feet, hard: Deadline reports that his first post-Hobbit directing gig will be his long-gestating passion project, an adaptation of the seminal H.P. Lovecraft novella At the Mountains of Madness. Del Toro put a substantial, ten-year deal with Universal on hold to direct The Hobbit, postponing the production of several dream genre vehicles, including new, perhaps definitive versions of Frankenstein and Jekyll and Hyde, a film of Dan Simmons’ neo-Victorian Drood, and Madness. His return to America has apparently borne fruit, with James Cameron of all people stepping on board as producer to bring Del Toro’s ultimate movie to screens. A script has long been written, and Deadline reports pre-production may begin in weeks with production commencing next year.

Madness is a key tale in Weird horror writer Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos, wherein an expedition to the Antarctic in the 1930s awakens horrific old gods linked to the origins of humanity. A film would be that now-rare beast: a horror tentpole movie, with a big budget to bring an epic of Weird Fiction to the screen. Between the unexpected mass success of Avatar and Inception, the rejection by audiences of returns-to-the-well like The A-Team and Robin Hood, and the studio support for visionary projects like this, might we be seeing a rise in auteur-driven blockbusters? Granted, Cameron’s involvement no doubt helped a lot – he and Christopher Nolan are probably the only filmmakers who can make anything they want on a large budget – and it will be in 3D, but this is still hugely encouraging. I’m off to read the book.

THE AVENGERS ASSEMBLED at Comicon last weekend, as expected, and what a thrill it was. Marvel pulled it off, gathering the entire lineup cast so far on stage together at the end of Saturday’s Marvel panel, along with writer/director Joss Whedon: Robert Downey Jr. (Tony Stark/Iron Man), Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury), Chris Evans (Captain America), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow), Clark Gregg (Agent Coulson), and the new arrivals: Jeremy Renner and Mark Ruffalo were both confirmed as Hawkeye and the Hulk, respectively.

Snagging Ruffalo is significant, as he veers more to prestige fare and hasn’t taken on tentpole movies before, although I’m sure he’s been offered them. Whedon says he was his first choice, which is lovely, although we technically know that’s not true because he was in talks with Edward Norton. Alas, we must move on: Ruffalo’s a great choice and will convey Bruce Banner’s vulnerability expertly.

Likewise, Renner’s a terrific actor joining an already classy lineup – Marvel have accomplished great things so far with this project. Curiously though, despite the hullabaloo, the nascent studio has only had big hits with one character: Iron Man. Captain America and Thor have yet to prove their box office clout. It would be a crying shame if they flounder at the box office and enthusiasm for The Avengers among the general public wilts before it can even begin to grow. I imagine Marvel are hoping for the best very, very fervently.

COMICON also offered the usual array of first-look trailers, but only one has emerged online officially in any form: Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch. He has wisely followed up Dawn of the Dead, 300, and Watchmen with his first original film, although it looks to be a pastiche of an immense number of pop culture influences. The setup is simple: a young woman committed to a mental institution by her father escapes to a fantasy world, but that world appears to be Lewis Carroll crossed with Tolkien, samurai films, machine guns, war movies, and who knows what else. It’s ambitious to incorporate so much into one movie without it feeling overstuffed, and we don’t know what Snyder’s like as a screenwriter, but it looks visually arresting. Plus, this is an original film made on a big budget servicing an auteur’s vision – you will notice a pattern here, non? Sucker Punch arrives in March.

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