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At the Mountains of Madness dead? Studio, MPAA or cinema to blame?

Studios want all their films to hit the thirteen year old and upwards demographic. Apparently that's where the most money is, where the most cinemagoers are, and that's why they want everything to be PG-13 in America. R rated films just don't work. Not helped by the fact that many cinemas restrict screenings of R rated films and limit the screens it shows on as well as the cinemas it shows in.

So came the death of Guillermo del Toro's big budget adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness.

Guillermo del Toro has spoken out and said that his adaptation of the classic H.P. Lovecraft story may never see the light of day, and this perhaps marks his last attempt to get someone to back the film in order to see a release.

The reason seems to be, according to the email he sent to the New Yorker which arrived through The Guardian, is that the desire for a hard, true to Lovecraft story meant the film would undoubtedly receive an R rating from the American censorship board the MPAA, and that's something that the studio just couldn't handle.

It seems that Universal didn't want the film to be R rated, which in America means that only anyone over the age of 17 can see the film, which would have killed it dead. Oh wait, there's another part to this, you can see the film if you're under 17 if you're accompanied by an adult.

What's the fuss about then? You just get a bunch of teenagers together and get an older brother or sister to accompany them to the cinema and you get the sense of sneaking in to something you wouldn't normally get to see. Oh, I am thinking of another era aren't I?

According to Guillermo del Toro he wanted to have the creative freedom to make the film his way, adapt the Lovecraft horror story the way he wanted to and staying very true to the original, and that meant true horror, an R rating for sure, and Universal didn't like that idea considering it was expected to cost about US $150 million to make.

It's interesting that in the article he compares what he was trying to do with At the Mountains of Madness as what Alfred Hitchcock did with The Birds, a bigger budget horror film.

"[That] was a major film-maker using cutting-edge optical technology and special effects...It was a big-budget movie. It had Edith Head designing costumes, it had all the luxuries. And it was appealing because it had all the polished aspects of a studio film."

However the studio just didn't go for that, and that's a real shame, especially considering the rumours that were coming out about casting and production on the film.

If the studios have their way it looks as though horror films will never expand their scope out of the lower budget, genre based audience reaching films that we see, they're just too scared to invest the money that might not get seen by the demographic that they so love.

However is it the studio's fault? I don't think so, for me there are two things that stand out with the rating system in America, and it may be that I haven't quite understood it, but I think the real fault lies with the cinema chains and the MPAA.

First up the MPAA are knee-jerk and reactionary, they are also made up of a group that don't seem to be as pragmatic, as open and as concerned about film as much as the British equivalent the BBFC. I always say that the BBFC look at moments in a film in context with the whole piece, whereas it's very clear the MPAA see a gun and scream, or see sex and think that fornication will bring about the devil incarnate and destroy the universe. The BBFC don't. They look at the entire film, the context, the overall message, understand society and the audience much better, and also the film-makers and their intent. This results in the BBFC giving much better ratings to films.

In the UK the cinema chains appear to behave much differently than in America. I did read, and I wrote about it somewhere in the past, that giving a film an R rating means that some cinema companies won't pick up the film at all, knowing that it's restricting their audience, and other cinemas who do will restrict the number of screens it's showing on and the number of screenings per day, after all Harry Potter can attract a wider number of people than an R rated film since under 17 year olds can walk in unaccompanied. So they show teen friendly films more often, in more screens, and in more cinemas.

Anyone notice something immediately there? If you show one film six times a day, every day and another two times a day for half the week, which one will be physically able to take more people and therefore earn more money?

Now I'm not saying that's the exact problem, but there are clearly more people here to blame rather than the studio for saying no to the R rating. If the film was being showed as often and in as many cinemas as the teen friendly counterparts then perhaps it would have a better chance at earning as much, horror fans would have more chance to see it.

Guillermo del Toro's vision for At the Mountains of Madness has been the latest victim of this process. If he cut the cost radically, smaller stars, less production budget and filmed in a studio with 3D conversion, then perhaps it would get made, but then it's not even half the film it could be and it wouldn't attract half the audience, even if it was playing in twice as many cinemas.

Who is to blame for this latest failure?



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