At the Mountains of Madness isn’t the first unmade film project that Guillermo del Toro and James Cameron tried to collaborate on. Back in 2001, Variety reported that Cameron, via his Lightstorm Entertainment company, bought the rights to the 2001 comic book miniseries The Coffin.
Created by Phil Hester and Mike Huddleston, it’s a modern twist on the Frankenstein story. In it, Dr. Ashtar Ahmad has created a polymer suit that is able to trap the soul inside of it, where it can live on. But his research has been funded by a ruthless and very rich old man who will stop at nothing to extend his own life. When he sends assassins to kill Ahmad in order to stop him from sharing his discovery elsewhere, the badly wounded doctor manages to get into one of the suits. Now, essentially a vapour, he must take on the tycoon and his minions in order to save himself and those close to him, including his estranged young daughter.
The black and white story feels very much like a movie, and exactly the kind of project del Toro would be interested in, with its Frankenstein premise, dramatic plot, steam-punkish hero, depictions of Hell and child in jeopardy. In fact, the protagonist is strikingly similar to the character of Johann Kraus – a psychic who, due to a paranormal accident, was reduced to an ecotoplasmic form and now lives as a vapour inside of a containment suit – from del Toro’s Hellboy films. (Hellboy creator Mike Mignola premiered the character in 2003, two years after The Coffin.)
The announcement about the film was originally made while del Toro was prepping Blade 2, so this was fairly early in his career. He was working on a script and confirmed that he would direct it, as well. The filmmaker continued to mention the project in interviews after that but nothing became of the film. In a 2011 interview with Entertainment Fuse, Hester said that del Toro had written a treatment for the movie and there was still an “open option” with Lightstorm, but he wasn’t holding his breath that it would get made. So, while its essence hasn’t evaporated into the ether, it seems trapped in own Development Hell suit…
Ironically, there were fears back in 2001 that The Coffin would kill del Toro’s Hellboy film, which was eventually made in 2004. Though he didn’t end up making the The Coffin, he did write the foreword for the 10th anniversary reissue of the comic. And Huddleston did eventually share a credit with del Toro when he worked on the comic version of del Toro’s T.V. show The Strain.