The filmmaker formally known as Guillermo del Toro, now referred to ubiquitously as Guillermo “I’m making The Motherf****** ‘Hobbit’” del Toro, appeared tonight at the Director’s Guild of America in midtown Manhattan as part of The New Yorker Festival series of talks. During the conversation with New Yorker staff writer Daniel Zalewski, the director of such modern genre masterpieces as Pan’s Labyrinth and the “Hellboy” series talked up some of his future projects, including the aforementioned two-film Tolkien adaptation as well as a new version of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein.”
Currently at the beginning of pre-production on The Hobbit, del Toro discussed his process of gathering ideas, or “feeding his brain,” in order to conceptualize his own vision of Middle Earth unique from where Peter Jackson went in his “Lord of the Rings” trilogy
“I find you have to discipline yourself to write in the morning, and then watch and read in the afternoons stuff that seems relevant, even in a tangential way. For example, reading or watching World War I documentaries or books that I think inform ‘The Hobbit,’ strangely enough, because I believe it is a book born out of Tolkien’s generation’s experience with World War I and the disappointment of being in that field and seeing all those values kind of collapse. I think it’s a turning point that you need to familiarize yourself with. I’m starting. Peter Jackson is such a fan of that historical moment and obsessive collector of World War I memorabilia, and he owns several genuine, life-size working reproductions of planes, tanks, cannons, ships! He has the perfect obsessive reproductions of uniforms of that time for armies of about 120 soldiers… each. I asked him which books he recommended because I wouldn’t be watching ‘Krull’ or ‘The Dark Crystal,’ I need to find my OWN way into the story. That’s the same way I did ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ or ‘Devil’s Backbone,’ by watching stuff you wouldn’t think about.
“All my life I’ve been fascinated by dragons. I was born under the Chinese sign of The Dragon. All my life I’m collecting dragons. It’s such a powerful symbol, and in the context of ‘The Hobbit’ it is used to cast its shadow through the entire narrative. Essentially, Smaug represents so many things: greed, pride he’s ‘the Magnificent,’ after all. The way his shadow is cast in the narrative you cannot then show it and have it be one thing, he has to be the embodiment of all those things. He’s one of the few dragons that will have enormous scenes with lines. He has some of the most beautiful dialogues in those scenes! The design, I’m pretty sure that will be the last design we will sign off on, and the first design we have attempted. It is certainly a matter of turning every stone before figuring out what he looks like, because what he looks like will tell you what he is.”
After he completes his work on the two “Hobbit” films in 2012, the prodigiously optimistic del Toro has a whole slew of projects to keep him occupied until 2017, including a new version of Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde, his long-delayed Lovecraft adaptation At the Mountains of Madness, a just-announced trilogy of vampire novels (the first of which he claims is already written), and his own version of Frankenstein.
Del Toro is an acknowledged fan of “Frankenstein.” He has busts of Boris Karloff as the monster in his house. One of his biggest filmic influences, the 1973 Spanish film The Spirit of the Beehive, revolves around a showing of the classic Universal Frankenstein. He has raved about Bernie Wrightson’s illustrated version and the original Frank Darabont script eventually filmed as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein by Kenneth Branagh in ’94 and all-but-disowned by Darabont. Del Toro’s version, however, sounds decidedly different
“I’m not doing ‘Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein.’ I’m doing an adventure story that involves the creature. I cannot say much, but it’s not the central creation story, I’m not worried about that. The fact is I’ve been dreaming of doing a ‘Frankenstein’ movie since I was a child. The one thing I can promise is, compared to Kenneth Branagh, I will not appear shirtless in the movie!”
When pressed by a fan during the Q & A regarding the Wargs’ appearance in The Hobbit, del Toro seemed like a child dying to spill the big secret he has but forcing himself to show restraint, joking that “Warner Brothers has a sniper right here in the theater.”
“There will be different sensibilities involved in this movie than there were in the original trilogy. First of all, because we have the travelogues in ‘The Hobbit’ which goes to places and variations on races that were not addressed in the trilogy. My belief on the ‘Wargs’ issue is that the classical incarnation of the demonic wolf in Nordic mythology is not a hyena-shaped creature. It is a wolf. The archetype is a wolf, so we’re going to go back to the slender, archetypical wolf that is, I think, the inspiration for Tolkien. Listen if we were having a drink two years from now I would spill the beans, because I’m a pretty easy guy about spilling the beans, but I can’t in this instance I can’t because it’s three years from now… believe me, I am jumping up-and-down inside this fat body!”