Guillermo del Toro has spent his entire career making monster movies. From the ghosts of The Devil’s Backbone to the creatures of Pan’s Labyrinth to the heroes of Hellboy, the director has long used the mysterious beings to tell all different kinds of stories with different messages and themes. But with Pacific Rim, the filmmaker’s latest, he has taken his love of monsters to a whole new level…one about 25 stories high.
Prior to the new film’s release, I had the chance to sit down one-on-one with del Toro to talk about everything that went into the making of his latest movie, from the size of the expanded world, to his contributions to the original concept, to finding material that he is really passionate about. And could At The Mountains of Madness have a future at Legendary Pictures? Read on to find out!
Over the course of your career you’ve always made genre films, but at the same time all of your films are different in their storytelling approach, tonally… So when you are first approaching a project, what is it that makes you say yes? What is it that you’re looking for?
I need to want to dedicate two or three years of my life to it, because that’s how long it takes and I need to fall in love completely. There really haven’t been, the only two projects, no, there’s only one project that I didn’t start. I was late to. The rest of the projects, I’ve been there creating them, including Pacific Rim, which I created from the treatment with Travis [Beacham], all the way to the movie. So, what I need to feel is that I have a chance to make it what I want to make it. Sometimes it happens, sometimes is doesn’t, like Mimic, was really frustrating, but it needs to be that.
Is experimentation part of it, just kind of trying to do something new?
No, I just think, you know, whatever I’ve done, I always have done in the throes of passion, not like that, literally fall in love madly, like a kid with the things I do, and basically, almost nothing has ever stopped me, you know, like Pan’s Labyrinth, I did against all odds. Nobody wanted to do it. It was really difficult, blah, blah, blah. And I ended up doing it. Pacific Rim was monumental movie, one that looks much more than its budget, than if it’s a big budget. And I wanted to deliver it... I made it a point to say I’m going to deliver it on budget. I failed. I delivered it under budget. I gave them a chunk of change, but the reality is that I want to basically take premises that nobody takes seriously, like ideas that normally are approached with a lot of postmodern winking or a lot of re-constructivism and do them with the passion and care and attention to detail and dedication that is not normal, you know, and I was thinking, well, you look at the Kaiju genre and for my generation or your generation, we saw it when we were kids, but for the new generations those movies are not a fresh experience. So, I’m almost trying to be a bridge between that generation and a new generation of Kaiju lovers.
There are films that take simple concepts and decide that they won’t work for modern audiences because we’re too smart for them but, really, this is a film that starts with giant monsters versus giant robots and it’s exactly as advertised. To a certain degree I think that’s a valuable thing
Well, the thing is, and my wife often makes fun of me. She says, “Why don’t you take a franchise or something that is actually easy to do? That’s an easy sell.” When I said to my wife, “I just turned down this or that movie,” she said, “Of course. It would be too easy.” And the reality is that I feel, look, I never made a movie to be in the big budget game. I never made a movie to win an Oscar or be nominated, but I’ve been able to do it all on my own terms. That is, for me, the only really valuable thing about my movies, that they’ve all brought me great satisfaction in their own terms.
What was your first meeting with Travis Beacham like? There was talk about this project back in 2010.
Well, we knew each other farther than that. We knew each other from The Killing at Carnival Row, and then, after we developed that, he send this synopsis to Legendary and my manager and agent sent me the synopsis and I don’t do, I almost never engage in projects that I don’t generate and they sent me the synopsis, with the message email, the reference was, “Pass?” and I said, “No, I want to take the meeting. This is great, “and I went and I said, “I’m going to tell Legendary my craziest ideas up front and if they react, I’ll do it,” and I told them I wanted it to be two pilots drifting with a neural bridge. I wanted this and that…and they said, “Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes,” and Thomas [Tull] said, “But you’ve for to direct it,” and I said, “Well, I’m doing Mountains of Madness” and he said, “Well, will you co-write it and produce it and if you are not doing Mountains of Madness, will you then direct it?” and I said, “Yes,” and the moment Mountains collapsed on a Friday, Monday I was doing this.
You work so much within the practical realm, but with this film obviously, nobody was going to let you build 30-story monster and robots. Was that ever a point of concern for you?
No, because, look, even if you look as early and as far, even if you look back just to Hellboy II, the elemental is a gigantic CG effort. The two fairies on that movie, completely CGI. The golden army, completely CG and Hellboy I, Blade, they all had a degree of sophisticated digital effects, that I’m really comfortable with.
So, it’s basically, as long as you have that practical technique to work off of…
What you need to do, is you say, digital needs to be used as a last resource. I don’t think it’s a good resource or a bad resource, but if people use it as a lazy short-cut, it’s terrible, but if you use it as the, “Ok, I cannot do this as practical. How do I do it?” and even then, we used miniatures.
Really? Oh, that’s awesome.
In a couple of the scenes, what you see are miniatures.
It’s also a point that we’ve really ever seen anything designed like these monsters or even the mechs.
Well, because we based the mechs on real machines. We were working from an archive of photographs of submarines, planes, reactors, and when we were working on the Kaiju, we were working with a huge archive of real animals and all that.