The Man Who Killed Don Quixote
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Credit: Recorded Picture Company

Terry Gilliam's Don Quixote adaptation proudly rides out of development hell with a first trailer

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Apr 5, 2018

Miguel de Cervantes' 17th-century novel Don Quixote has puzzled Hollywood for many, many years. Trying to make a film adaptation of the book is almost a cursed endeavor in a way, with talented filmmakers tackling the source material and finding the task too unwieldy to carry through toward a satisfactory end.

Orson Welles (Citizen Kane, Touch of Evil) discovered this when he began production on Don Quixote in 1955. Second unit footage was still being filmed in the early 1970s, and not until seven years after the famous director's death was the finished product released. Even then, not all the footage was included in the cut arranged by Jesús Franco, and the movie received a mixed reception.

Welles' folly should have been a warning sign for Monty Python alum Terry Gilliam, who began work on his own adaptation in the late '90s with Jean Rochefort and Johnny Depp attached to star. In true Gilliam fashion, this wouldn't be a straight book-to-screen translation, but a loosely based adapation titled The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, in which an elderly man believes himself to be Don Quixote. An advertising executive, Toby Grisoni, is thrown back in time and mistaken for Quixote's loyal squire Sancho Panza. Together, the two embark on an adventure, which jumps between the 17th and 21st centuries as Toby begins to lose his grip on reality. 

However, the project seemed like it was doomed to languish in development hell when a number of factors like destroyed sets, financial diffuculties, and Rochefort's departure began to arise one after the other. It looked as though history would be repeating itself, but Gilliam didn't give up and attempted to get the film going numerous times between 2005 and 2016 with Robert Duvall, Michael Palin, and John Hurt as Quixote, and Depp, Ewan McGregor, Jack O'Connell, and Adam Driver (Star Wars: The Last Jedi) as Grisoni.

Principal photography finally got underway last year with Driver still playing Toby and Jonathan Pryce (the High Sparrow on Game of Thrones) as the man who thinks he's Quixote. After more than 30 years, Pryce re-teamed with the director after starring in 1985's dystopian, 1984-influenced Brazil

An initial trailer has dropped online for The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, and you can watch it below. As you'd expect, it's chock full of the whimsy and strange visuals Gilliam is known for. Even the poster brings to mind his 1981 film Time Bandits.

Given the source material being used, there is no doubt that the movie will be the very embodiment of the adjective "quixotic," a word which here means Terry Gilliam can make things as weird as he wants and it won't be out of place. Still, it's awesome that he was finally able to realize what is obviously a passion project, one that was nearly derailed several times over the last 20 years or so.

But would you expect anything less from the director who was able to finish The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus after the shocking and tragic death of Heath Ledger? Gilliam is tough as nails, doesn't give up when the going gets rough, and delivers on his passions. That's true filmmaking for you. 

The film is expected to be screened at the Cannes Film Festival in May.

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