Guillermo del Toro interview: the director’s cut of Mimic, HP Lovecraft and more

Ahead of the release of Mimic Director’s Cut on Blu-ray, we caught up with director Guillermo del Toro to talk about reclaiming the film, and much more…

Released back in 1997, Mimic was a somewhat bitter induction into Hollywood filmmaking for director Guillermo del Toro. After the creative freedom of his low-budget, Mexican-language debut, Cronos, the making of his second feature was markedly different; he may have been given more money to play with, but process of making Mimic was fraught with creative divisions and studio interference.

Del Toro’s antipathy towards the resulting film led him to publicly disown it – a move that was surely borne more out of the unpleasant process of making it than the feature itself, since Mimic, although flawed, was nevertheless a decent sci-fi horror mash-up, with some great monsters, cinematography and ideas.

Almost 15 years on, and del Toro has returned to the film he once regarded as something of a failure. Digging around in Miramax’s film archives, del Toro salvaged the original footage, and returned with a re-edited cut of Mimic that trims out the second unit material he so disliked, and reinstated the atmospheric or character-based moments that irked studio heads back in the 90s.

Out on Blu-ray on 31st October, the Mimic Director’s Cut is about as close as we’ll ever get to the film del Toro had rattling around in his head, before all those creative differences began, and it’s a film that’s more measured, atmospheric, and still full of great monsters.

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To mark its release, we were lucky enough to talk to the director about Mimic, his forthcoming movie Pacific Rim, the possibility of a third Hellboy, and the lasting influence of writer HP Lovecraft…

What made you return to Mimic after 14 years?

I always said I needed it, like making amends with myself [Chuckles]. Although the movie I wanted to make was never done, I knew there was a better cut of the movie laying somewhere in boxes in Miramax’s warehouse. So we went looking for all the footage, which was a big quest, and reinstated a bunch of material which is ten or 12 minutes or more.

We actually took out a lot of the second unit footage, which I detested, and reinstated some of the thematic or character moments that I liked.

And those character moments really change the atmosphere and pace of the film.

I think so, because part of what I didn’t like about the earlier cut was that it had too many fake scares. It seemed to be rushing through ideas, rather giving them a little chance, you know? Now you see Mira [Sorvino] trying another plague control thing, so you see her way of thinking, that she’s respectful of nature, but eventually you understand that science, by definition, is not respectful of nature.

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It’s about human arrogance – that and the idea of the exploited workers and how they talk about the insects as angels, and many other little things.

One of the things that is the same, of course, and something I’ve always liked about Mimic, is the creatures themselves. How much of a hand did you have in designing those did you have back in 1997?

We were very close, the designer and I. I have a huge reference library on insects, and he came over to Mexico, and we pulled out the books and looked at macro photographs of insect mouths, so the biggest hand in the design was nature. We tried to design them so they could stand up.

We tried to make them look natural – I was trying to make them look like real insects. I didn’t want to give them exotic shells or anything like that. Both the monsters and the story try to make the science believable.

In fact, a scientist used Mimic as a point in his final exam, and a group of scientists named a hormone in a water beetle Mirasorvono. If  you Google it, you’ll find it.

I think the greatest giant insect movie ever made is Them!. It’s so important to makes sure the context is common, and to make sure the only thing you come up with that’s different is the insect. You don’t create more creatures. You keep it rooted in reality, so the monster seems plausible, like a real living creature.

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I think those are the real rules. But insects have such a hold on our imagination – they’re primal creatures that we fear. So you see them in [Quatermass And The Pit], and you see them in other cultures, with godlike or demon-like powers, you know?

I think the great thing about Mimic is its use of practical effects rather than lots of CG.

Yeah, which I still do, like in Hellboy. That’s really important to me.

Do you think there’s now an over-reliance on computers when it comes to creatures in films?

I think so, yes. If something’s too big or too small, you have to use CG, for sure. But other than that, creatures are better, unless they’re giant creatures or tiny creatures, when they’re physical. I think a lot of people would argue that I’m right, but maybe CG has found favour with a younger generation of viewers. I just think that making physical creatures is such a beautiful art, that we should really try to keep it alive.

Is it becoming more difficult, do you think, to make a truly scary movie monster?

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To a point. I think we were trying some really cool stuff on At The Mountains Of Madness, but the monsters we fear – it’s subjective to the viewer. What is scary to me is silly to somebody else. CG isn’t scary to me. It’s like comedy – comedy and horror are quite similar, in that there’ll always be somebody who’ll say, “I don’t think that was funny.” And it’s the same with things that are meant to be scary.

But other than that, horror is always about context. The creator has to find the right context for things to happen – that’s when a monster really works.

You mentioned At The Mountains Of Madness. As a Lovecraft fan, that’s one of the great losses to cinema in recent years – is it something you could maybe revive at some point?

I hope so. I mean, I’ll do my best for it to happen, but I don’t know when. I’m not sure I’ll want to do it right away after Pacific Rim, which is a huge movie, so maybe I’ll want to do something smaller afterwards, I don’t know. I stopped having plans after Madness, because it always blows up in my face!

Maybe you could look at adapting another Lovecraft story – one that’s less expensive to make?

Yeah, yeah. I think I’m getting closer and closer to finding another short story to be made. I’ve got a lot of scripts, but it’s getting the backing to shoot them.

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I’ve got a pet theory about Lovecraft, that he’s one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. He influenced Stephen King, Alien, and maybe even Quatermass And The Pit, which you mentioned earlier. Is that something you’d agree with?

I would agree wholeheartedly, and I’d say he’s not only influential, but one of the great unacknowledged writers. And not only his cosmic horror – there are the smaller tales too. When people think about Lovecraft, they often think about the big gothic monsters, but he had stuff like The Dreams In The Witch House, and The Thing On The Doorstep, which were very influential.

There are a lot of Lovecraftian monsters in your films, too, aren’t there?

Oh yeah. Mike Mignola’s Hellboy was influenced by Lovecraft big time. He wanted to make his monsters Lovecraftian. But I think many other films have been influenced by Lovecraft – like Alien, which is almost an outer-space version of At The Mountains Of Madness.

Giger’s original painting, which ultimately became the alien, was called Necronom IV.

Exactly. And when you read the original draft of Alien they discover an ancient alien city – or in this case a city slash space ship. They discover the life cycle of the creature, which is sort of shape-shifting, and they even discover a mural that describes how that life cycle works, which is very much like Lovecraft’s story.

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And as you say, his influence is rarely acknowledged.

People normally say Alien was influenced by It! The Terror From Beyond Space, or Mario Bava’s Planet Of The Vampires, but I assure you there’s the influence of At The Mountains Of Madness, for sure.

The Thing is another film that’s obviously inspired by it.

John W Campbell, who wrote the original story, Who Goes There?, admitted publicly that it was a riff on At The Mountains Of Madness. This isn’t supposition, you know? It is an absolutely admitted fact by John W Campbell, that he was inspired by it.

Going back to Mimic, now you’ve had 14 years’ distance from it, are you happier with it now? Can you look at it more easily?

Yeah, I love this cut. It’s not the movie I wanted to make, and we never shot the ending I wanted, but I love this cut. It’s a good version of the movie we made, and I’m proud of it. I hope people will rediscover how beautiful the movie is to look at in many aspects, and how good it is in many aspects. It still has flaws, of course, but there’s still some good stuff in there to discover.

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So how far are you along with Pacific Rim?

We start shooting in five weeks, and I’m very excited about it.

And what about the possibility of a third Hellboy? Is that something that’s likely to happen?

I would love to have an answer to that. But I had a meeting with some potential studio producers about it, and they don’t seem to be interested in going for it. So I really don’t know if I’ll be able to make that happen in time before Ron Perlman becomes a geriatric!

Well, we did run a Ron Perlman for Hellboy petition on the site, so I hope that helped a little!

I know, and I really appreciated it. I hope you guys check out the director’s cut of Mimic. I think the changes have made for a much better movie.

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Guillermo Del Toro, thank you very much.

Mimic: Director’s Cut is out on Blu-ray on 31st October.

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