EXCLUSIVE The director talks about "The Hobbit," the "Hellboy 2" Blu-Ray and the daydream idea of someday making a Swamp Thing film
I sat down with Guillermo del Toro on Tuesday night and, as usual, the "Hellboy" filmmaker was charming, funny and passionate about film and comics. There was a question I’ve wanted to ask him since I first saw the beasties of "Pan’s Labyrinth": Would Del Toro please make a movie adaptation of Alan Moore’s sublime run of stories on "Swamp Thing" in the 1980s?
"Oh, I would love to make a Swamp Thing movie," Del Toro said, smiling broadly at the notion. "Really, Swamp Thing is one of the last Holy Grail projects that is still out there. Those stories were fantastic, with the hallucinogenic feel of that world. I don’t think anyone is tackling that one anytime soon. It is one of those Holy Grails that dates back to that same boom as ‘Watchmen’ and ‘The Killing Joke.’ For me it would be an honor to do it. Right now, I don’t think it’s happening. If I had enough time to tackle it. But I will be 50 when I get out of ‘The Hobbit’…" In January, the 44-year-old fantasy auteur is moving to New Zealand with his wife and their two daughters to begin work on another J.R.R. Tolkien film series, which "Lord of the Rings" director Peter Jackson will be executive producer on. "Everything is going great, it’s really a dream come true to be part of this," Del Toro told me. "I’m writing every day."
He’s also traveling a lot, making preparations for "The Hobbit" as well as tending to other commitments, such as promoting the Blu-Ray and DVD release of "Hellboy 2: The Golden Army." "I came back from Japan two days ago. Right now, frankly, 12-hour trips are, to me, like a commute between Burbank and L.A. I must say it requires a special type of mental discipline to get onto 11-hour flights every 10 days."
I met him after a nice presentation in Hollywood on the Blu-Ray release of "Hellboy 2: The Golden Army," where he was joined on a lively panel by "Hellboy" actors Selma Blair, Doug Jones and Jeffrey Tambor, "Hellboy" creator Mike Mignola and Dark Horse Comics founder Mike Richardson. Del Toro is extremely proud of the Blu-Ray, which has a fascinating (and surprisingly smooth) toggle function that allows a film-school sort of deconstruction of scenes; you can see how the contributions of actors, puppeteers, animators and the special effects team are stacked and meshed to create the distinctive world where Del Toro’s monsters roam. The Guadalajara native told me that the Blu-Ray is a powerful tool not only for film clarity, but filmmaking clarity. "I really am talking to myself when I was young. This is I wanted to see and hear and learn. How do you make these movies?"
"I think it would be a disservice if we had a preconception or prejudice going in that we are starting from scratch. That is what we are not doing. I really think that the movie will establish its own personality. It’s going to have its own world, separate from the other trilogy. But one you do not do is not honor the cosmology, that existing canon. I don’t want it to be an arbitrary exercise in distinction. I want it to serve the book in the same way the books were served by Peter, [and his fellow screenwriters] Fran [Walsh] and Philippa [Boyens]. I want it to be a movie that coexists with the trilogy. My biggest hope is that one day there will be children who sit down and watch the five movies and make it a weekend."
I asked Del Toro if he has any concerns about the future of superhero films — specifically if the intense Hollywood interest in the sector now might lead to oversaturation and a numbing effect on innovation due to imitation and auidence fatigue.
"I don’t have to worry about that because it sorts itself out. It was only a couple of decades ago when we had a crappy Spider-Man with mirror glasses shooting rope out of his wrists and we were watching a Captain America with glued-on latex ears. These things sort themselves out. It’s bound to run its course and it’s also bound to evolve."
What does he mean, precisely, by the superhero cinema running its course?
"What it means is right now, I think the comic-book films that succeed were reignited by hardcore fans. Tim Burton and Sam Raimi and people like [‘X-Men’ producer] Tom DeSanto and all of a sudden what you’re going to see is everybody jumping on the bandwagon because of the successful movies. Then they will be less successful and then, just as it happens in horror films, only the hardcore people will remain. And it will start over again … I’m happy to see stuff like ‘Preacher’ and ‘Jonah Hex’ being adapted, more edgy and less superhero-ey stuff. When people ask me my favorite comic-book adaptation, I tell them ‘Ghostworld’ and people are surprised. But it is. There’s also ‘Road to Perdition‘ and ‘History of Violence.’ There are very intersting films made from comic books without traditional superheroes. But of the classic superhero movies, my favorite is still Richard Donner and Richard Lester’s ‘Superman II.’ When I was a kid, it was the first one where they were throwing cars around and doing all the things you wanted to see in a movie."
Del Toro was ready to move on but I had to go back one more time to my plea: "Can you please, please, please make a Swamp Thing’film? It’s perfect for you."
"You know ,you’re right. I agree with you. Completely. There are really only three comic-book movies I would want to make. Demon, Swamp Thing and Dr. Strange. I don’t think they’re in the cards right now. Maybe when I’m 60."
— Geoff Boucher
Other Hero Complex conversations with filmmakers:
Swamp Thing art by Ed Powell courtesy of DC Comics. Guillermo del Toro on the set of the movie "Hellboy II: The Golden Army," photo by Egon Endrenyi/Universal Pictures. Ron Perlman as Hellboy, photo courtesy of Universal.