The efforts to get “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” onto the bigscreen were well documented in the harrowing and ultimately heartbreaking documentary, “Lost In La Mancha,” and it was a brutal reminder that no matter who you are and what your resume, filmmaking can kick the crap out of you at any point.
I would imagine that Terry Gilliam is somewhere today fuming about the idea that Johnny Depp just set up “a modern re-imagining of ‘Don Quixote'” with Walt Disney, and Steve Pink & Jeff Morris will write the script. It’s interesting that Depp’s still circling the character, but not surprising. Don Quixote has a way of doing that to filmmakers, which was the whole point of “Lost In La Mancha.” Orson Welles spent much of his career chasing the story, trying to figure it out, and in the end, it broke him just like it broke Gilliam. Depp was attached to star in the first version of Gilliam’s film, and then ended up moving on, eventually replaced by Ewan McGregor when Gilliam tried to get the film off the ground a second time.
There’s something fitting in that, of course, since the Cervantes novel is about chasing the unattainable and grappling with self-delusion. The curse of Don Quixote is so pervasive that UCLA even hosted a night celebrating it and showing pieces of many of the abandoned efforts along the way. Even the word “quixotic” means idealistic to a fault, which any filmmaker taking on the material would have to be at this point.
What makes the book so hard to crack? Well, it’s about 1000 pages long, which never makes it easy to find a two-hour film in the material, and it deals with two distinct levels of reality. In some ways, Gilliam’s been chasing Quixote through his whole career. “Time Bandits,” “Brazil,” “The Fisher King,” and “12 Monkey” all deal with characters living in two worlds at once and they also wrestle with the notion of madness. I don’t believe it’s impossible, but I think it can be a huge challenge, and without just the right take, it’s a big task to undertake.
While there’s no director set for this film yet according to Deadline’s report, I would imagine Pink is a candidate for the gig. He directed “Hot Tub Time Machine” and just finished the new version of “Sexual Perversity In Chicago,” and he and Morris started working together when Pink signed on to direct “True Memoirs Of An International Assassin,” which Morris wrote. It is truly mind-boggling to think that the director of “Hot Tub Time Machine” might pull off what Orson Welles couldn’t do in a quarter century.
And Terry Gilliam weeps.