FIVE IDEAS FOR FIXING UNIVERSAL'S DARK UNIVERSE
Universal’s planned multi-film monster movie franchise has had a hard time getting off the ground. First, Dracula Untold was mediocre enough that the studio seems to have had a hard time deciding if it’s even part of the larger project anymore. Then, The Mummy flopped. Now, while it sounds as if the franchise may still be in the works, it’s undoubtedly a little bit less exciting than it once was, at least as a concept. A superhero-esque series of movies based on the likes of Dracula, Frankenstein and more frankly sounds like a great idea for modern cinema. It just needs better execution than what we’ve seen to this point.
Far be it from me to suggest it should be easy to make this work. I don’t believe any Hollywood project is as easy as fans make them all out to be. Nevertheless, these are five ideas I can’t help but think would move things in the right direction, if they’re feasible for the involved studios.
1. Start Over
As mentioned, Universal’s first two efforts were both so lacklustre the studio seems to want nothing to do with them. Dracula Untold has been shoved into the background, and The Mummy was bad enough to cause the entire internet to more or less assume the entire Dark Universe had been cancelled. So here, Universal should do what DC and Warner Bros. didn’t have the courage to do after Man Of Steel disappointed: just start over. Sure it’s a little humiliating, but if nothing else it would show fans some accountability and strongly hint that the next film to restart the franchise would take a different approach.
2. Update The Games
Somewhat strangely, Universal’s monsters are perhaps most visible these days through online casinos. There are a number of games based on the monsters’ old stories and films - even including one based on the Creature from the Black Lagoon! Generally speaking the newer online casinos offer the latest and games and most updated versions, and this is where you’ll find these Universal titles. But that doesn’t change that they’re mostly based on movies from 100 years ago. If this is where Universal is going to be visible, the games should be updated to hint at new films. And for that matter, the same aesthetics should be used for a new line of mobile games, perhaps with a console effort to follow. Games matter both for getting characters out in the open and for building a franchise model.
3. Skip The Action
I don’t mean all of the action. At some point Van Helsing and Dracula need to go at it. But Universal should give up right now with the 3D-oriented, full-screen, Michael Bay-style action we saw in The Mummy. This kind of action is for Transformers and Avengers - not for monsters who lurk in the dark. These films need to be scarier than they are silly in order to do well with their intended audience, and that means creeping villains, sudden jumps, one-on-one violence, and more in this regard. There should be little to no action that takes up the entire screen and is audible two theatres over.
4. Hire Horror Directors
As mentioned these films should be scary, not silly or action-packed. We’re talking about monsters - most of whom originated in gothic literature a century or more ago. Yes, some of the same characters have been turned into very tame symbols of Halloween over the years, but that’s all the more reason to bring them back to their roots as legitimately spooky figures. There are a lot of fine horror directors working today, and hiring a few of them to handle this franchise would seem to be the best way forward.
5. Pick A Protagonist
Amazingly, this is something that Universal didn’t really seem to manage to do in its first two efforts. Dracula was a main character, as was Tom Cruise’s somewhat generic adventurer in The Mummy. But at least at first there needs to be one character definitively at the center of this universe. The challenge is that this is a series meant to be built around monsters rather than heroes. But Universal’s writers should be able to come up either with a hero who can fend off the monsters (Van Helsing clearly comes to mind) or go the full antihero route and make one such monster the core of the whole effort. Whatever the case picking this character and making him or her shine in a fresh, first effort is perhaps the most important change to be made, for my money.