Don Quixote, by Miguel Cervantes, is one of the most famous (and popular) books of all time. Published in the early 1600s, and widely considered to be the first modern novel, Don Quixote follows the adventures of its titular character Don Quixote, along with his loyal sidekick Sancho Panza, as they adventure through the Spanish countryside, attempting to revive knighthood and the values of chivalry and heroism. The book has had a massive influence on literature and popular culture, inspiring writers such as Alexandre Dumas and Mark Twain, along with the creation of new words such as “quixotic” and “lothario.”
In the modern era of cinema, and with such a monumental impact on the world, Don Quixote would obviously seem like one of many book to film adaptations that would receive live-action adaptations in cinema. Alas, Cervantes’ masterpiece of storytelling struggled mightily in being brought to the big screen. Many projects based on Quixote were started, but ultimately not finished, such as Disney’s 1929 adaptation, Orson Welles’ 1957 adaptation, and starting in 1989, Terry Gilliam’s (of Monty Python fame) The Man who Killed Don Quixote. A production plagued by so many devastating and differentiating problems, Gilliam’s Don Quixote project finally came to life and to theaters in 2018.
Beginning The Man Who Killed Don Quixote
One of the smaller problems that began the trials of the making of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote was getting the funding and opportunity to make the film. Gilliam has been on record as saying that “Don Quixote was one of the 10 films they wouldn’t let me make,” referring to the studio he was working for. Luckily, roughly a decade after working on the script and then after the success of Fear and Loathing Las Vegas in 1998, Gilliam got the opportunity, along with a $32 million budget, to make a Don Quixote film.
Production of the film then began in 2000, and was disastrous from the start. Spanish military planes would fly over the set, completely ruining the sound recordings and quality. The second day of shooting, a flood destroyed the set, ruining equipment and set design, and after Jean Rochefort suffered a back injury during filming, production would be canceled entirely.
From 2005 to 2010, Gilliam would go through more obstacles to try and get the film made. A rotating cast of actors who came in and out, including Johnny Depp, Ewan McGregor, and Robert Duvall, made shooting uncertain without set actors. The budget was also slashed and slashed until there was little funding to make the movie, ending the second phase of Gilliam’s quest to make the film.
Terry Gilliam’s Quixotic Production
After his science fiction film, Zero Theorem, debuted in 2013, director Terry Gilliam told sources that he would once again start pre-production (for the seventh time) on The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. Funding was secured, and filming was set to start in 2015, but more tragedy struck. John Hurt, who was set to play Quixote, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and sadly passed away in 2017. Back in 2016, a new cast consisting of Adam Driver, Micheal Palin, and Olga Kurylenko was finally set for Gilliam’s project.
Then problems with funding began, as Paulo Branco (the Portuguese producer Gilliam was working with) could not get the funding he promised for the film. Along with that, Branco clashed hard with Gilliam on set. He wanted creative control of the film, then slashed the budget, reduced fees for one of the leads, and even went as far as to threaten legal action against Terry Gilliam. Branco did eventually file a lawsuit to prevent the film from being screened at the Cannes Film Festival, but was quickly dismissed by a Parisian court; then in 2018, Gilliam was ordered to pay 10,000 Euros to Branco and his production company.
Once production wrapped in 2017, and a trailer dropped in early 2018, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote finally made its debut in theaters at the Cannes Film Festival and elsewhere. Though even this itself was not without conflict; Terry Gilliam suffered a stroke during his lawsuits, and Amazon pulled its rights from debuting the film in North America (Screen Media and Fathom Events eventually acquired those rights, and debuted the film in North America). Nonetheless, the film was released, receiving mostly positive reviews from critics and audience alike, earning a 63% (“fresh”) rating on score site Rotten Tomatoes.
Gilliam Finally Killed Don Quixote
There’s been many articles and news pieces on the monumental journey it took for Terry Gilliam to make The Man who Killed Don Quixote, and there is even an excellent documentary based on the first failure of the production, entitled Lost in La Mancha. Narrated by Jeff Bridges and starring the original cast of the first project, Lost in La Mancha premiered in 2002, and was supposed to be a “making-of,” but when the Don Quixote film wasn’t made, it ended up being released as a documentary.
So after thirty years of tragedy, bad luck, and Herculean obstacles, Terry Gilliam finally managed to make the movie he always wanted to with The Man who Killed Don Quixote, which is available to watch on Hulu, Prime Video, and other streaming services. The quest is over.
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