Why Universal's Dark Universe needs to change
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Universal Studios announced last month their intention to build a cinematic universe based on their iconic monster properties that will be called the Dark Universe. Tom Cruise’s The Mummy, which opened earlier this month, kick-started the universe off. However, after underperforming at the box office and getting critically panned, has the idea collapsed before it’s even got going? It is important to first understand what made the original monster movies so great. In 1931, both Dracula and Frankenstein were released in cinemas with Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff playing the monsters in each respective film. The movies were incredibly well received at the time and looking back on them over eighty years on, it’s not hard to see why. The films, in essence, were great character stories. The monsters were almost the heroes of the story, the title characters who kept coming back. People didn’t go to Dracula to see Dr Van Helsing, they came to see Bela Lugosi’s terrifying beast. A great aspect of these films was the sympathetic nature of the monsters. At times, you could understand their motives and even feel sorry for them. Take Frankenstein’s monster for example. Born as an experiment and for most of his life only knowing torture and imprisonment, he wants only to be accepted by society. Due to everyone's fear of his existence though, he is vilified and exiled. Even the reanimated Imhotep in The Mummy can be seen as nothing more than a hopeless romantic whose heart is in the right place despite his questionable actions. The humanity of these monsters is no doubt an important part of what made them great. What definitely did make them great though was their scare factor. Although by modern standards these films would be suitable for a child, at the time, they were quite terrifying to some. When stripped down to their basic concepts, the monster films are quite scary: a man of psychic power who drinks blood to survive, a man-made monster of extreme strength, a reanimated corpse from ancient Egypt and an invisible murderer. Looking at what made these horror classics so successful is vital to understanding what the Dark Universe has to live up to. And now onto the modern era and what Universal studios are looking to do now; having already failed at establishing a franchise with the abysmal Dracula Untold, a second attempt is well under way with several films already in the works including Bride of Frankenstein, Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Invisible Man and more. The Dark Universe, however, has started with a stutter, with The Mummy basically being one long trailer for future movies. The film had no real personality to it. Being co-written by six different people, it’s easy to see how many of the shoehorned in elements, such as Russel Crowe’s Dr Henry Jekyll and many of the monster artefacts made their way into the film.
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There are many who are already expecting Universal to pull the plug on the Dark Universe, but with the cast they have set up and the money already invested, it's more likely they'll push on. Hopefully, if they re-think their strategy, they can do justice to the monster movies of old and build an interesting, engaging cinematic universe for us to enjoy.
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