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Will Johnny Depp’s “Don Quixote” Leave Terry Gilliam Tilting at Windmills?

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Terry Gilliam’s long struggle to make a film based on “Don Quixote” took another blow yesterday. It was announced on Deadline that Johnny Depp will co-produce for the Walt Disney Company a modern update of Miguel de Cervantes’s novel about the superannuated Spanish knight.

Depp was one of stars of the Gilliam version that came to grief shortly after it began production in 2000. That debacle was the subject of Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe’s 2002 documentary “Lost in La Mancha,” narrated by Jeff Bridges. See the clip below.

Because filming Cervantes’s two-part “The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha” (1605-1615) would have required the kind of financial investment Peter Jackson gets when he tackles Tolkien, Gilliam took a leaf from Mark Twain’s “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” and his own “Timebandits” and “Twelve Monkeys”: he cast Depp as a contemporary market executive who time-travels to the 16th century and is mistaken by Quixote (Jean Rochefort) for his peasant sidekick Sancho Panza.

Fragile financing, noise from NATO planes, and appalling weather in Bardenas Reales where filming began, and an injury to Rochefort wrecked the shoot just a few days in. The footage that surfaced looked glorious.

Gilliam relaunched the project in 2008. In 2010, it emerged that he had cast Robert Duvall in place of Rochefort (who’s now 82) and Ewan McGregor in place of Depp. Funding for it fell apart earlier this year and Gilliam moved on to “Zero Theorem.”

Now “the Don Quixote Curse” — which tormented Orson Welles, who labored on a never completed version between 1955 and 1972 — has struck Gilliam again. Since the Disney film, which Depp will produce with Christi Dembrowski for their Infinitum Nihil outfit, is modern-day, it’s of course unlikely to preclude Gilliam going ahead in the future. But it narrows his chances of getting studio backing.

Johnny Depp (Photo by Max Nash/AFP/Getty Images)

The Disney-Depp movie will be written by Steve Pink and Jeff Morris. Pink, who recently directed the second adaptation of David Mamet’s play “Sexual Perversity in Chicago,” is assigned to direct Morris’s script for “True Memoirs of an International Assassin.” Depp will presumably star in the 21st-century Quixote. Long before that, he will be seen as Tonto in Gore Verbinski’s “The Lone Ranger,” due next July.

“It’s sort of Don Quixote told from Sancho Panza’s point of view,” Verbinski said of the comic Western in a 2011 interview with comingsoon.net.

That’s all very well, but the preferred option is Don Quixote told from Terry Gilliam’s point of view.

Top image: Terry Gilliam and Jean Rochefort (as Quixote) in a film still from “Man of La Mancha”

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