Frankenstein’s monster was a shambling heap of decaying parts that ought to have stayed dead but was instead brought back to life in a horrifying fashion. Universal’s “Dark Universe,” a grand planned franchise meant to resurrect the studio’s classic horror properties from the ‘30s and ‘40s, is also an artificial, undead monstrosity. The difference between the two, however, appears to be that the Dark Universe can be killed.
On Wednesday, The Hollywood Reporter wrote that the Dark Universe is in serious jeopardy, as Alex Kurtzman and Chris Morgan, the two producers who were supposed to oversee the sprawling horror franchise starring A-listers like Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie, have quit. The franchise, which was announced with great fanfare and detailed plans for movies about the Wolfman, Frankenstein, Invisible Man, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon, kicked off with The Mummy in June. The Tom Cruise-led film was a flop, bringing in an underwhelming $400 million internationally on a pretty big budget, and getting mostly negative reviews.
Kurtzman is going to keep working on Star Trek: Discovery while Morgan’s headed back to the Fast and Furious franchise.
The pair’s departure isn’t the first sign of trouble for the much-hyped franchise. In October, Universe paused production on the next movie in the series, Bride of Frankenstein, which was meant to star Jolie as the titular bride. The February 14, 2019 release date quietly went away.
The Dark Universe saga is, at its core, a tale of hubris. The studio, thinking that decades-old monster movies and big-name stars would automatically generate a profitable shared cinematic universe, shared a photo of the cast of the planned films in May, putting the cart well before the horse. The Dark Universe got a swanky new logo and an entire renovated office building on the studio lot, though THR reports that the building is mostly empty.
When The Mummy, a not-great movie that went to great lengths to lay the groundwork for an upcoming interconnected franchise that nobody really wanted, flopped, it seemed like folks at Universal were the only people who were surprised. In a statement to THR for the Wednesday article, Universal president of production Peter Cramer acknowledged that mistakes had been made, but suggested there was still hope for the Dark Universe.
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.
I grew up on Universal’s Classic Monsters, so on the one hand, the probable loss of the Dark Universe is a bit of a bummer. It would have been interesting to see what the Creature From the Black Lagoon looks like today. On the other hand, if they were going to be like 2017’s The Mummy, a tonally inept mess which was vastly inferior to Brendan Fraser’s 1999 flick, maybe we’re better off without ‘em. Also, if no Invisible Man reboot means that alleged domestic abuser Johnny Depp won’t star in another major motion picture, that’s a good thing.