Guillermo, why did you sign up for The Hobbit?

Guillermo Del Toro, menaced by a super-vampire.

Well, okay, I know why he wants to direct The Hobbit. He thinks it’ll be fun. And “it’ll be fun” is pretty much the best reason for any artist to do anything. (“I have something to say” is up there, too, of course… but honestly, if you don’t start with the fun it’s pretty much all over before frame one.) So good for him, really. All those dwarves and furry feets will probably make it easier for Guillermo to get big money for his personal projects down the line, too, so that’s cool.

But man… Hobbits, huh?

Two movies worth, even. Four years PLUS before we’ll see At the Mountains of Madness. Or that crazy-ass clockwork Monte Cristo thing. Or the “kid witnessing the apocalypse on his way to pick up milk” one. Or The Left Hand of Darkness, or Hellboy 3, or… anything, really. And all for hobbits.

I have to admit, I’m slightly depressed.

But this is “Thanks for HAPPY,” not “Dude, harshin’ my buzz,” so I shouldn’t dwell on my slight depression. Guillermo Del Toro without a doubt my favorite of all the directors to come flopping up out of the vast primordial director stew in the past decade, and that fact completely snuck up on me. (WordPress tells me “snuck” isn’t a word, but I’ll be damned if I write “sneaked” instead. We write like we talk on THIS blog, WordPress!) Let me explain…

Mimic (1997): I knew nothing of Guillermo Del Toro when I dragged my dad to see this one with me. I wanted to see Mimic on the basis that (A) it was a theatrically-released giant killer insect movie (a true rarity in those days), and (B) I had an enormous crush on Mira Sorvino. My dad took issue with the notion of an insect colony evolving so quickly over such a short amount of time (a solid, if not a little needlessly crabby, criticism), but I, for one, had great buckets of fun watching great buckets of insect guts go splattering all over the place. I was absolutely enthralled with the creature designs, the creepy dark atmosphere, the attention to detail in the locations, the weird kid with the spoons, all of it, really. But the thing that really grabbed me (and pretty much the only thing anyone remembers about that movie anymore) is when those two standard-issue plucky street urchin kids -exactly the sort of lovable moppets that live to save the day in the end- get horribly mauled to death by the monsters. “This Del Toro,” I thought, nodding sagely to my 19-year-old self, “is a fellow to watch.”

I haven’t seen the movie in years, though. Most people kind of hate it, it seems (including, well, Guillermo Del Toro), so maybe I should just let it sit there all cozy in my memory and never watch it again.

Cronos (1993): I rented this right after seeing Mimic. I’m pretty sure I got it at Blockbuster, but don’t quote me on that because I don’t quite believe it myself (A foreign film at Blockbuster? With subtitles? And it’s 4 years old? Didn’t they need that shelf space for While You Were Sleeping overstock?). It has Ron Perlman and a clockwork scarab that turns people into vampires, which sounds like a can’t-miss combination, but I remember being slightly disappointed by it. The premise just seemed to promise more craziness than the movie ended up giving me. That’s right: 10 years ago I was the guy who liked Mimic more than Cronos. This opinion is clearly psychotic and must be altered by new screenings of one or both films A.S.A.P.

I kind of forgot about Guillermo for a while.

The Devil’s Backbone (2001): In 2001, my friends and I went to see practically every art-house/foreign film available (usually at the Pasadena Playhouse 7, but if we happened to be in the mood for dilapidation and sadness, the Rialto). I distinctly remember seeing a movie about gay assassins in Colombia, and another one about Eskimos that run really, really fast. I’m pretty sure I knew The Devil’s Backbone was by the Mimic guy, but I probably wouldn’t have seen it theater-style if not for the arty binge we were on. I liked it quite a bit, but… oddly enough, the ghost was the thing I liked least. I loved the characters (especially the villain, all drippy with skeevy machismo), and the setting was fantastic. I didn’t know much about Civil War-era Spain, so seeing one little corner of that world so beautifully recreated was… well, one of the best reasons to go to the movies, really. (Maybe that’s why I was so drawn to the gay Colombian assassin scene, come to think of it.) But the ghost didn’t quite work for me. He certainly looked cool, what with his veiny skin and floaty blood-trail, but I never really felt scared of him. Visually, I mean; the staging, editing, backstory, etc., were all spot-on. Maybe he was just too “designed” looking or something. Too CG. I guess ghosts are scarier to me when they’re just sort of “people out of context.” Like in the Sixth Sense, you know, where all of a sudden there’s just someone walking around the house that should not be there. And they kind of fade out. Or just stare at you.

-Jesus, for some reason just typing that here in this dark room made me look over my shoulder. What a humongous weenie…. But the point is, typing that stuff about the Backbone ghost made me think “cool effect!” instead of “what was that behind my humongous weenie shoulder?”*

The movie definitely reminded me how cool Guillermo could be, though.

Blade 2 (2002):
Being kind of iffy on the first Blade movie (Sunscreen? Seriously?), it was a little odd that I even went to see the sequel theatrically. But the same friend who dragged me to the Colombian assassin and young footballers in Irish prison pictures had this inexplicable soft spot for Blade, and had no one else to go with, so there I was. Enjoying it. I don’t even remember the story, but the thing was just bulging with amazing design work, crazy action scenes, and Ron Perlman galore, so I got what I paid for. I mean, those weird jaws on the super-vampires were worth the price of admission alone. I distinctly remember thinking “This isn’t all that great, but it sure is well-directed. Somebody CARED about this thing.” It seemed like Guillermo Del Toro was one movie away from being the best guy ever.

And then Hellboy came along.

Hellboy (2004): Hellboy is my favorite superhero movie. Nothing else is even close. It’s a big, roiling mass of gorgeous pulp silliness, and I love it all to pieces. I felt like Guillermo Del Toro had a schematic showing all the happy buttons in my brain and decided to carefully press all of them. A lot of it comes from the comics, yeah, but he brought it to life so vividly… The movie was like a humongous, Hollywood recreation of the kind of crazy, elaborate stories I’d make up for my action figures when I was a kid.

El Labertino del Fauno, or “Pan’s Labyrinth” for those of us in America who insist on having the names of Greek dieties wedged into film titles for no discernable reason, apparently (2006): Better than Hellboy. The best fantasy film since… well, let me think about that one. And my favorite kind of fantasy, too, full of strange worlds with strange rules intruding on our own. Genuinely scary worlds, too. The ghost in The Devil’s Backbone didn’t really work for me, but the Pale Man sure did. Maybe it’s the sheer “wrongness” of it all. I mean, who is this skeleton with the floppy skin sitting in this room waiting for somebody to eat his grapes? And why is that ceiling in the hallway so low? Why is a low ceiling so unsettling? There’s less “BOO!” to it than the Backbone ghost, I think, and much creepier for it. Amazing stuff, and good throughout. And heartbreaking. Not just at the end, but consistently, and with enough hope cut through to make it all the harder and more beautiful.

I would say Captain Vidal is the best villain of the past decade, but then Anton Chigurgh showed up the next year and take it away from him. Still amazing, though. Sort of the living embodiment of the total madness of crisp, pretty little uniforms.

So yeah, at this point, after several years of sort of half-assedly stumbling into every Guillermo Del Toro movie ever made, with the last two movies he’s become one of my very favorite directors. I was super excited to hear about all the stuff he had planned for the future. Hellboy 2 looked good, ridiculous fun, and everything beyond sounded even more amazing…

Then hobbits happened.

I didn’t really like The Lord of the Rings movies that much.

I mean, I have HUGE respect for them technically, and the actors are all great to watch, for sure. Gollum is an absolute landmark in the effects world. Peter Jackson will probably show up in his own “Thanks For Happy” one day, but man… all that wizard and sword and pointy hat faux-medievalism stuff, it just leaves me cold. The whole genre, I mean, not just LotR. The whole “High Fantasy” thing. The Middle Earth movies are actually my favorite of all that stuff… but I’d still sort of prefer they keep their distance.

It wasn’t always that way. When I was a kid, I liked The Hobbit so much I drew sketches of every single character in the book on construction paper. I had a whole stack if”Art of DragonLance” books, despite having no idea what “DragonLance” was (then or now, actually). At some point I just went sour on the whole Sword ‘N’ Sorcery thing, though. Maybe it’s something to do with the fact that the whole genre feels like a gussied-up, whimsified version of, frankly, the most horrendous era in all of human history. It’s like, when I’m looking into a fantasy world, I want to feel as though I could live there for a while, y’know? Wizardy worlds don’t do that for me. You can keep your dwarves and chain-mail. Give me airships and the scientific method.

And now one of my favorite guys is making one of these elf pictures.

Oh, come ON, Guillermo! At Comic-Con a few years back I heard you say Pan’s Labyrinth was the cinematic equivalent of your balls dropping. GUYS WITH DROPPED BALLS DO NOT PLAY IN MIDDLE EARTH, GUILLERMO. Guys with dropped balls do not go play in Peter Jackson’s sandbox, they make their own goddamn sandboxes and fill them with awesome clockwork demon pulp sand! Anyone could make a decent Hobbit movie with Peter Jackson and co. looking over their shoulder. It’s all there already. The style is set, the tone is set, Weta is ready to go and the two key actors have long since established their roles… God, Brett Ratner could make a passable Hobbit movie under those conditions!

…Okay, maybe not him, but, y’know, some up-and-coming kid itching to make a name for himself under Weta tutelage probably could. Give little Timmy a chance, Guillermo! Step aside and make us some Antarctican Elder Things!


Aaaaaaand… scene.

Thank you, folks, for attending my one and only fanboy entitlement flailabout of the year. In all honesty, I’m sure this Hobbit movie will end up being really cool (how could it not be, with Misters Del Toro and Jackson all teamed up and stuff)? Will it be cool enough to make me like faux-medievalist wizard swordy dungeons, though? Cool enough to get me to play WoW, even?

No, probably not on that second one.

But I am looking forward to a GDT Smaug.

*”Humongous Weenie Shoulder” will be my first album.