Welcome to the Dark Universe

“Uuuuuhhhhhnnnnn….!!”  — the Mummy (before its morning coffee)

Are/were you a big fan of Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, the Wolf Man, etc.? In case you hadn’t heard, they’re making a comeback!

Universal Pictures had decades of success with its popular movies about these characters and others, beginning (I believe) with 1925’s The Phantom of the Opera and into the 1930s, 1940s, & 1950s. Of course, there were plenty of sequels, “foreign” versions, and the most popular characters got remakes in subsequent decades. I wouldn’t say I was a huge fan — I tended to prefer the giant and/or alien creature type of “monster” — but I think I did watch a few of the 1960s and 1970s remakes as a kid.

Classic Universal Monsters

I enjoyed the Mummy movies of recent years with Brendan Fraser, but I wasn’t sure if I was ready for the new Mummy reboot with Tom Cruise. (Fortunately, he isn’t playing the titular character.) Making the mummy female is an interesting twist, though, and now that I’ve seen the trailers, I’ll probably watch the movie at some point. What is more interesting to me, however, is that this movie (debuting in a couple weeks) is set to kick off a revival of the Universal Monsters, and they will all be part of a shared film universe — a “Dark Universe”. (Not to be confused with DC’s “Justice League Dark” nor with the space show at the Hayden Planetarium.) As Deadline‘s Mike Fleming noted,

“[T]his will be the first time that the studio has formalized an approach to these classic characters in a cohesive, connected way rather than as a series of stand-alone projects by disparate filmmaking teams.”

The concept for this shared universe appears to have taken form around 2012/2013. It wasn’t until July 2014, though, that Universal announced they had signed Alex Kurtzman and Chris Morgan to spearhead development of the classic movie monsters within a single, interconnected world. They will also, “work closely with production, marketing, promotions and consumer product to support the revival, [as well as] reevaluate projects which have preexisting attachments, and bring it under one cohesive strategy.”

In addition to Kurtzman and Morgan, they have been soliciting scripts and working with what has been called a “brain trust” of talented writers, including Noah Hawley, Aaron Guzikowski, Ed Solomon, Dan Mazeau, Jay Basu, David Koepp, and Christopher McQuarrie. There will also be a musical theme for the franchise composed by genre-favorite Danny Elfman, which will debut with The Mummy.

“When I got the opportunity to compose a theme for the Dark Universe logo,” said Elfman, “of course I jumped at it. What could be more fun than connecting to this world that has always been so deeply imbedded in my psyche? I tried to find something that was new but still had some connections with the past — the origins — at least in a subtle way.”

Many horror fans have been waiting a long time for something like this. The newly-dubbed “Dark Universe” will combine horror with other genres, though action-adventure seems to be predominant. For horror fans concerned about this decision, Kurtzman assures:

“I promise you there will be horror in these movies. It is our life goal to make a horror movie. The tricky part is actually how you combine horror with either adventure or suspense or action and be true to all the genres together.” (Screencrush)

The films will be modern-day reimaginings of the old stories & creatures, though I wouldn’t be surprised if there were prologue scenes of earlier eras. There will, however, be touches of the Victorian Era, because the link that connects the films will be a secret, multi-national organization called “Prodigium”, which is housed in a Victorian-looking HQ. According to this site, Prodigium “recognize, examine, contain, and destroy evil.”

“Prodigium protects the public from knowledge of the evil that exists just beyond the thin membrane of civilized society… and will go to any length to contain it.”

As I mentioned, Tom Cruise stars in The Mummy as adventurer Nick Morton. Rising star Sofia Boutella (Kingsman: The Secret Service, Star Trek Beyond) is Ahmanet / The Mummy, and Russell Crowe plays Dr. Henry Jekyll, the director of Prodigium, so he’ll probably show up in other DU movies, as well. Other big stars who have already signed on for upcoming films include Johnny Depp, who will play Dr. Jack Griffin / The Invisible Man, and Javier Bardem as Frankenstein’s monster. It is not yet known when Bardem will first show up, since a Frankenstein movie is not yet scheduled.

In a somewhat odd move, the next DU film on the docket is Bride of Frankenstein, directed by Academy Award® winner Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters) and currently scheduled for a Feb. 2019 release. Creature from the Black Lagoon (2019?), Invisible Man (2020?), Van Helsing, and Wolf Man are in development. I am assuming that a Frankenstein movie is also planned, and possibly Phantom of the Opera, Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, though the last one wasn’t originally a Universal property. The noticeable absence is that of Dracula. Apparently, there was talk of Dracula Untold (2014) being linked into the DU via reshoots and an ending scene that hinted at a shared universe. However, according to the new Wikipedia article,

“In December 2016, Kurtzman confirmed in an interview with Collider that Dracula Untold would not be part of the universe’s continuity canon. Featurette videos released by Universal Pictures for The Mummy have however confirmed the existence of vampires, alluding to Count Dracula.”

What about crossovers, you may ask? After all, there were a few such instances in the old films where two or three of the “monsters” fought and/or teamed up. Of course, those usually involved comedy duo Abbott & Costello…. Well, the focus for now is on standalone installments. But, as Kurtzman explained:

“[W]e have a *lot* of ideas…. We’re not necessarily going to do ‘The Avengers.’ There might be reasons for this character and that character to come together, because the story tells us that’s what the story wants. The story is what drives the choice. And if down the line, there’s a big reason to bring them together, then great. But I promise, we’re not starting there.”

That’s what we know, for now. There have been many takes on these characters over the past near-century, with Dracula and Frankenstein getting perhaps the most attention — one or more new productions for each every decade. So, maybe some people are tired of them. As for me, I don’t watch many of them, so I guess I’m ready for something new, and this shared universe may be what it takes to get me interested again. I was never big into the horror genre — one, I don’t scare easily, and two, I get impatient with the suspense aspect. (Hurry up, already! <<fast-forward>>) So, I suppose the action-adventure flavor will help keep the attention of people like me. I have mixed feelings about having such big stars involved, but I suppose that will help draw the crowds, which is where the big money comes from, which in turn leads to more movies. I can live with that. Besides, that’s a pretty talented bunch they’ve got, so far, which is very encouraging.

What do you think? Excited? Couldn’t care less? Let us know below if you have any thoughts on Universal’s “Dark Universe” news….

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4 comments on “Welcome to the Dark Universe

  1. I think this is one of the worst ideas ever. I honestly cannot comprehend how this could turn out well at all. The Marvel Cinematic Universe works because many of the things in it were already connected. This is just slapping a bunch of things together for the sake of having connections. I really doubt it will work.

    I admit I hate mashups in general, though.

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