If everything goes to plan, Terry Gilliam will commence production this September on his new, improved, second version of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. It’s a full decade now since cameras first turned on the project, and as the tragicomic documentary Lost in La Mancha so painfully showed, quite quickly stopped turning again.
There’s quite a few differences this time: Robert Duvall is the new Quixote, Ewan McGregor is the new “Sancho Panza figure” Toby Grosini and – as a result of Johnny Depp no longer being involved, I’m sure – the budget has been tightened up a little. Perhaps the most dramatic change, however, is one to the very concept at the heart of the film.
Last time around, it went something like this: Advertising ‘creative’ Toby Grosini is in Spain shooting a Quixote-themed commercial. He’s introduced to a man who claims to be the real Don Quixote. A little later, in the midst of a little trauma, Grosini finds himself transported to Quixote’s Spain by a little gypsy magic – either in reality, or by his imagination. Or indeed, in reality by his imagination.
The first big change has already been reported: McGregor’s Grosini is to be a screenwriter of movies, not an ad man. Here’s the second, fundamental difference though: this time, there’s to be no scenes set in period Spain. All of the scenes with Quixote and Grosini as his Sancho Panza are to be set in the here-and-now.
This has several interesting implications, one of which is that Gilliam’s film is now even more drastically distanced from Joel Silver’s proposed blockbuster version of the story. In the big-budget (most likely dumbed down) version Silver is cooking up, Quixote is “not a mad man” but everything he imagines in the novel is instead rendered as quite literal and real. This is a spectacularly daft idea, removing absolutely everything from the Quixote story that makes it at all interesting. What we’re going to be left with, says Silver, is something akin to those Pirates of the Caribbean films.
With this second iteration of his story, Gilliam’s needle has swung even further in the opposite direction to Silver’s. Gilliam and co-writer Tony Grisoni are leaping headlong into a blend of imagination and delusion without the safety net of “is it or isn’t it real?”
Much of remote and remote-ish Spain could easily pass for the 17th century – which, of course, is what allows for period films and scenes to be shot their in the first place. In the new Gilliam Quixote, Grosini and the Knight will find themselves in locations that allows them, and the audience, to forget that they’re in the 21st century… and then, for example, a modern car will come over the horizon and shatter the illusion. The audience and Toby are joined together in believing what they see, so to speak.
So… has The Man Who Killed Don Quixote stopped being a fantasy film and started being something else? Actually, if you think carefully about this new premise you’ll see why it might be hanging on a fantastical conceit – it’s just not time travel any longer. It’s immortality.
Here’s the rather stop-start, official blurb on the film from The Recorded Picture Company:
From the unique mind of Terry Gilliam comes his most anticopated film. A decade in the unmaking. Don Quixote leaps into life in this bold and high-spirited comedy.
Don Quixote. Eternal optimist. Madman. Knight. A noble soul who never lets truth get in the way of a great story.
Toby. Frustrated young filmmaker turned unwitting sidekick. Mistaken for Sanch Panza, Toby is charmed into the old man’s eternal quest for his lost lady-love.
As their adventures across Spain veer from the sublime to the ridiculous, Quixote reveals himself as a delusional idealist. Yet could he be the real knight of legend?
Torn between reality and fantasy, Toby must charge headlong into his own imagination.
Don Quixote rides again.