‘The Mummy’: Alex Kurtzman Confirms ‘Dracula Untold’ Is Not Canon, Teases Jekyll’s Role
After the release of the first epic trailer for Alex Kurtzman‘s The Mummy, we have a lot of questions about where the shared cinematic universe of Universal Monsters is going to go from here. Luckily, our own Steve Weintraub had a chance to sit down with Kurtzman himself, along with a small group of visiting journalists, to talk about the making of the film, working with star Tom Cruise, The Mummy‘s place in the shared universe, and much more. We’ll be breaking down that last aspect in a bit, but be sure to look for Steve’s full interview later this week. Be aware that some potential spoilers follow below.
As you might have noticed in both the teaser for The Mummy and in this first official trailer, Russell Crowe makes an appearance as Dr. Henry Jekyll. We’ve surmised that he might be the glue in the shared cinematic universe that will eventually include Javier Bardem as Frankenstein’s Monster and Johnny Depp as The Invisible Man. What we weren’t sure of is just how Jekyll will factor into this first film, or just what will become of the 2014 origin story Dracula Untold starring Luke Evans. Kurtzman happily provided some answers on both counts.
While moviegoing audiences are clearly aware of the existence of monsters in these movies, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the general public in the movies themselves are as well informed. Kurtzman clarified that fact as follows:
I feel like what I’m most satisfied by, as a viewer, is feeling like I was let in on a secret that the rest of the world doesn’t know. So The Matrix is a great example, right? At the end of The Matrix no one else knows that they live in The Matrix, because of the adventure in this particular movie, I know the reality of that. That was sort of a good marker for us. I think also the question of how does this movie live in the monsters universe, right? I believe strongly that the only way you can build a universe is not to start by trying to build a universe, that if you want to get there, the only way you’re going to get there is if the audience allows you to get there. Meaning, you have to do great individual films first. The audience has to fall in love with those movies first, and those characters first, and if they do and you develop an organic story reason to start bringing them together, great! But you can’t start with “Let’s just mash everybody together.”
Kurtzman also dropped a little historical knowledge regarding movie monster mash-ups:
The thing people forget is that the Universal Monsters were the first mash-up; they were the first universe built. It started with, I think, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, and that was the first time that they put them together and then from there they started cross-pollinating all the monsters. But that was only because Frankenstein had succeeded so many times as a film, and had spawned its own sequels, and Wolf Man had done the same, that Universal was at a point where they said, “God, we don’t know what to do with these characters anymore. Why don’t we put them together?” and then new stories emerged.
So I can’t tell you how much I believe that in order for you to enjoy The Mummy, you have to have a satisfying mummy experience. If we are then in that context able to set up a larger world? Great! But the setup of that larger world and whatever characters Tom may meet over the course of the mummy movie have to be part of the mummy movie. It cannot take you out of that.
And here’s where Jekyll comes in. Apparently there’s a bit of an antagonistic relationship between Jekyll and Cruise’s character. While that conflict brings dramatic tension to the story, Kurtzman and the creative team behind The Mummy were careful not to get too meta with it:
What are the rules you set out for yourself regarding the history and culture? Because you described this as sort of “the real world” and then the mummy arrives. But then Tom Cruise enters a room with Dr. Henry Jekyll and he doesn’t say, “Didn’t I read a book about you?” These things don’t exist in the world?
That’s funny, people ask me the same question on Sleepy Hollow about Ichabod Crane, and no. I would say no. These characters do not exist as characters in novels or in films, let’s say. They are in their own universe, so these are real people in the real world.
So what is the decision to bring Jekyll into this story?
In looking to figure out how to place The Mummy in a larger context and setting up this organization that has actually been dealing with monsters for longer than any of us have been around, it became clear that we needed somebody to be the voice of that organization. The next thought was like, “Well, it could be Joe Mcgillicuddy, or we could actually go into another character that makes sense organically.” It was a real point of conversation with Tom. If we’re going to bring in Henry Jekyll, how is bringing Henry Jekyll into the mummy story not a detractor from the mummy story? How does Henry Jekyll become part of this story in an organic way? And part of what Tom’s character, Nick, learns about the mummy and about the history of the mummy comes through Jekyll’s very deep understanding of monsters and how monsters have existing quietly in this world for eons.
It’s that last bit about how Jekyll has been aware of monsters for some time, and has been researching them at the very least, that grabbed our attention. That arcane knowledge likely makes him the linchpin for the cinematic universe. But how far can that shared universe extend? Which monsters might it include?
What else is fair game? Tremors? Chucky? Are these things possibilities or are you only limiting yourself to the classics?
We’re talking about the classics right now. I would say that if you want to define our mission statement, it’s to bring a very modern approach to the classic Universal Monsters. It really will be limited – at least in our thinking right now – to the monsters that you’re talking about.
Which monsters, you ask?
Okay, well, Creature from the Black Lagoon. I want that to be in the jungle. Okay, we’re in the Amazon. Where do you want to shoot that, on the backlot or in the Amazon? No, we have to actually go there. Okay, if we go there what’s THAT going to…? Well, now you’re talking about a big movie. You know what I mean? And there’s underwater and there’s all the things that you would look for, for something like Creature.
Is that the actual conversation about Creature right now?
It might be. Yes, it is, actually. It’s that kind of thing. But I think if you look at something like Creature, the story starts to tell you what it wants to be and how big it wants to be. The beauty of monster movies is that because they’re psychologically complicated, there are certain monsters that are better served by being really intimate and really small, and so I think the goal would be to make room for… they don’t all have to be this size, but it’s certainly good to start that way because I think that’s how we reach as many people as we can. I’d love to think we can do smaller movies too. I would.
The inclusion of the titular creature likely comes as good news to fans of horror classics, but this current slate of films isn’t the first time Universal has tried to launch a wave of reboots in recent years. In addition to the Mummy trilogy anchored by Brendan Fraser‘s adventurer, 2004’s monster-hunting Van Helsing, and 2010’s The Wolfman, there was the recent attempt at giving Dracula an updated origin story. As for whether or not that film will be included in this canon, Kurtzman confirms:
Dracula Untold. Canon or not?
It looks like a fresh start for Universal Pictures and their storied movie monster universe. Here’s hoping The Mummy gets things off to a roaring start and provides plenty of staying power for a much-needed revamp of these classic characters.
Are you excited to see a new take on The Mummy? Glad that Dracula Untold isn’t going to be part of the current story? Let us know in the comments below!