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Being an Oscar-nominated screenwriter, acclaimed filmmaker and director of last year’s blockbuster Pacific Rim, it may be heard to believe there was a time when Guillermo del Toro had little leverage against Hollywood studios. But in 1997, following the success of independent Mexican horror Cronos, del Toro was approached by Miramax Films to develop an adaptation of a short story that explores certain insects’ abilities to take on the appearance and characteristics of other organisms. Mimic, written by science fiction writer Donald A. Wollheim, who had passed away just a few years earlier, would lay the groundwork for del Toro’s American debut.
But the experience of working within the Hollywood system and adhering to the endless demands of studios and producers would take their toll on the young director, who would ultimately lose final cut on the picture, prompting del Toro to distance himself from his work. It would be a further four years until he released a new movie, working in Madrid with acclaimed Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar on El espinazo del diablo (The Devil’s Backbone) which, like most of del Toro’s work, would owe a debt to the surreal imagination of H.P. Lovecraft.
‘Mimic was such a bad experience that I didn’t want to go back and do an American movie again. I didn’t want to go through the process,’ he told the A.V. Club many years later. Over a decade after its release, del Toro had enjoyed success with a big budget sequel to the vampire flick Blade, two Hellboy movies and the universally acclaimed dark fantasy El laberinto del fauno (Pan’s Labyrinth), but his disappointment with Mimic ultimately prompted him to return in order to assemble a director’s cut of the picture.
‘We went back to the Miramax vault, which is like the final shot of Raiders of the Lost Ark!’ he explained to Empire. ‘This is the cut I love. Now, if you don’t like this cut, I can take the blame with a smile, because it’s as close as it can be to what I wanted. I wish we could have shot the original ending. I can’t do much about that. It was much more pessimistic than the ending we have now: the insects were fucking the brains out of each other, and the ending was essentially one of the Mimics being able to mimic the naked human form. And being able to fuck. That was the ultimate horror for me.’
Over the years Mimic has received a mixed reaction from both critics and fans. In his 1997 review of the movie Roger Ebert declared ‘Mimic is a loyal occupant of its genre. But Del Toro is a director with a genuine visual sense, with a way of drawing us into his story and evoking the mood with the very look and texture of his shots.’ But in recent years, when compared with his subsequent output, many felt that the film fell short of his potential. Both What Culture and Slant Magazine listed the movie near the bottom of their ‘best to worst’ rankings of del Toro’s films, despite its foreboding atmosphere and nightmarish visuals.Recently del Toro took part in a question-and-answer session with fans on Reddit, in which he discussed the long-rumoured Hellboy 3 and the recent success of Pacific Rim, while also looking back on the experience of both shooting and re-editing Mimic. ‘I feel that after doing the director’s cut of Mimic, I came to like the movie again. I used to hate it, but audio-visually, cinematography, design, sound design, creature FX; I was always in love with that part of it. It is harder for me now, that I like Mimic, to choose a movie I don’t love, because they each took two or three years of my life every time, and I give them that time because I love them.’
Much of del Toro’s work has revolved around the animal kingdom, specifically insects. A device created in Cronos that grants the owner eternal life resembles a metal spider or cockroach, but nowhere was his fascination with insects more explicit than in Mimic. ‘I am sort of an amateur biologist, and I am very biologically curious, and you can see it on my movies…as a child I was surrounded by insects in my grandmother’s house, and I found them to be beautiful and terrifying at the same time. I spent many hours reading about them, particularly in the books of a famous entomologist that was very influential on me, called Fabre. I highly recommend his work to all of you.’