dark universe

Things are looking extremely dark for Universal’s Dark Universe.  The studio had an ambitious plan to update their classic monster franchises, which date back to the earliest days of film– some from the 1930s– for modern audiences.  Writer/producers Alex Kurtzman and Chris Morgan were hired to oversee the unfolding shared universe of films but have officially parted ways with Universal, leaving no one to steer this ship.  In addition, it’s reported that a building on the Universal lot that was extensively renovated to exclusively house the Dark Universe headquarters now sits almost entirely empty.

Alex Kurtzman Photo credit: Helga Esteb / Shutterstock.com

Kurtzman (‘Transformers’, ‘Star Trek’) and Morgan (‘Fast & Furious’) assembled a writers room and oversaw the interconnected would-be blockbuster films.  But this year, the first movie in the brand, ‘The Mummy’ starring Tom Cruise fizzled at the box office, reportedly losing Universal $95 million.

Kurtzman is now focusing on TV, in particular, the successful CBS All Access series ‘Star Trek: Discovery’, while Morgan is shifting gears back to ‘Fast & Furious’, working on a script for a spinoff starring Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham.

In August, Kurtzman expressed uncertainty about his future with Dark Universe, saying “You know the truth is, I don’t know. I really don’t know. Haven’t really decided, is the honest answer.”

Then, in early October, Universal halted production on ‘The Bride of Frankenstein’ and sent the pre-production crew home.  The studio also scrapped the film’s February 14, 2019 release date.  Bill Condon remained attached to direct, but prospective stars Javier Bardem and Angelina Jolie, who had not officially signed on, started to look less and less likely, with word emerging that Condon now hoped to entice ‘Wonder Woman”s Gal Gadot to play the titular monster.

Chris Morgan

Of course, what many forget is that this is Universal’s second stab at a Dark Universe.  In 2014, ‘Dracula Untold’ was supposed to kick off the franchise, but like ‘The Mummy’, that film was savaged by critics and failed to make a mark on audiences.  Universal declared that ‘Dracula Untold’ was no longer the Dark Universe starting point– ‘The Mummy’ was.  It seemed that Universal’s plan was to populate its monster movies with big names like Cruise, Russell Crowe as Doctor Jekyll (he appeared in ‘The Mummy’ to set up future films), Johnny Depp as The Invisible Man and, so they hoped, Bardem as Frankenstein’s monster and Jolie as The Bride.  But that approach hasn’t worked so far.

Universal is now looking to entice visionary directors with distinct voices to take over from here.  Low budget fright-meister Jason Blum has been mentioned as a candidate.  This year, Universal has scored huge with low budget scarefests like M. Night Shyamalan’s ‘Split’ and Jordan Peele’s ‘Get Out’.  Perhaps courting these sorts of inexpensive filmmakers and going for actual scares versus spectacle would be a wiser path.

Previously, Universal wasn’t aiming for true horror with Dark Universe.  As one insider described:

“Their mandate has more or less been that they wanted these to work as PG-rated action movies/theme-park rides, not horror movies. Basically, Fast and the Furious meets The Avengers, but with super monsters.”

Universal’s president of production Peter Cramer announced:

“We’ve learned many lessons throughout the creative process on Dark Universe so far, and we are viewing these titles as filmmaker-driven vehicles, each with their own distinct vision.  We are not rushing to meet a release date and will move forward with these films when we feel they are the best versions of themselves.”

This sounds akin to Warner Brothers’ recent announcement regarding its DC Comics shared universe.  That studio declared that they were no longer placing as much emphasis on tying their films together and more interested in allowing directors to make the movies they want to make– something evident with the success of ‘Wonder Woman’.

Things are not dead for Universal’s Dark Universe.  ComScore box-office analyst Paul Dergarabedian said , “It’s never too late to course-correct, because with each movie, you get another shot.  There’s no way to give up on this. This is Universal’s legacy.”

Universal just needs a clear vision rather than “Avengers with super monsters.”

Source: The Hollywood Reporter