Last year, we reported that Universal had hired Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman to create a crossover universe employing the studios famous monsters such as Frankenstein’s Monster, Dracula, The Mummy, et al. But a few months ago, Orci and Kurtzman dissolved their long partnership, and have gone their separate ways. However, Universal still wants their Avengers-style crossover world featuring the studio’s treasured creatures, and has now brought on Chris Morgan to team up with Kurtzman on the project. Morgan is a favorite at the studio having written the scripts for every Fast & Furious movie since Tokyo Drift, which is good because when I go to a Fast & Furious movie, it’s because of the screenwriting.
Hit the jump for more on what Kurtzman, Morgan, and Universal have planned for the classic monsters.
According to Deadline, Universal wants to create a unified world for their monsters. Presumably, this includes the monsters that were featured in the studio’s terrific Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection Blu-ray set: Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, The Wolf Man, the Bride of Frankenstein, the Invisible Man, the Mummy, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon (the Phantom of the Opera is also in the set, but he’s a bit of stretch). These crossovers aren’t anything new. Universal stretched these franchises with films such as Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. Dracula, the Wolf Man, and Frankenstein’s Monster shared the screen as recently as 2004 with Van Helsing. Putting these monsters together in the same movie isn’t a new concept.
However, it’s clear that Universal is desperate to follow Marvel’s playbook, and they’ve decided to put Kurtzman and Morgan in charge. Deadline reports that it’s not set in stone if they’ll handle screenwriting duties on these movies, “but they will soon be going around town enlisting talent to bring new cinematic life to these enduring characters from lore, literature and Universal’s own library.” While the studio already has another monster property set for this year (Dracula Untold), this will be the beginning of an entirely new franchise, so even if Dracula Untold is a hit, that doesn’t mean it will be part of the new crossover universe.
In addition to hiring people to tackle this new universe, Kurtzman and Morgan will also “work closely with production, marketing, promotions and consumer product to support the revival,” because I guess it’s important for them to know what the toys and bed sheets look like.
This whole project will kick off with the reboot of The Mummy, which was already in development, but lost its director, Andres Muschietti (Mama), a couple months ago over creative differences. The studio originally wanted a darker tale, but then Muschietti left when Universal decided to go for a “four-quadrant, more family-friendly action-adventure blockbuster,” instead. It’s unknown if the family-friendly approach is still the plan now that The Mummy is supposed to be part of a larger monster universe. The movie is still being targeted for an April 22, 2016 release date.
I can’t help but feel that this is a doomed endeavor. That’s partly because I don’t think Kurtzman and Morgan are particularly good writers, but it’s also because these Universal Monsters are distinctive to their original incarnations. Dracula and Frankenstein’s Monster are in the public domain. Anyone can make a movie using those characters. Universal doesn’t own Dracula or Frankenstein’s Monster. It’s Bela Lugosi as Dracula. It’s Boris Karloff as Frankenstein’s Monster. It’s a specific actor tied to a specific role tied to a specific time. If you get a modern actor dressed up in the Frankenstein’s Monster design conjured by original makeup artist Jack Pierce, it looks like parody. Or, you can do a completely different Frankenstein design. You can make him look cool, revamp his origin, and make him try to appeal to modern audiences. I’m sure that will work out.
Perhaps if Kurtzman and Morgan had a track record of exciting movies I would give them the benefit of the doubt. But this looks like another example of a studio chasing a formula because they don’t know how to recreate the quality.