Universal; Not A Shared Universe
When The Mummy debuted in 2017, Shared Universes were still all the rage. So Tom Cruise (Nick Morton), Russell Crowe (Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde), Javier Bardem (Frankenstein), Johnny Depp (The Invisible Man) & Sofia Botella (The Mummy) were all cast to become part of a ‘Dark Universe’ of Monsters. That was, however, before The Mummy underperformed and halted the entire thing. Oddly enough, this Monster-verse was the originator of a shared universe back in the1940s. With The House Of Frankenstein, it seemed plausible that Wolfman and Dracula existed in Frankenstein’s world. Of course, they all debuted in their solo films first so when crossing over, viewers could recognize the connection. That’s what you call irony.
But with cinema today, creating a film in a shared universe and an actual great film don’t seldom go hand in hand. And when studios are trying to figure out how to get Transformers and G.I. Joe to coexist, you know it’s getting desperate. They actually tried building the world around them before developing a quality film. If you want viewers to come to theaters, you have to think about the films themselves before thinking people will just flock to it because multiple films will follow.
I’m seeing a trend in Hollywood right now. Sure, the big budget films are clogging the market share from others, but they’re also becoming more and more expensive. Creating a shared universe sounds simple on paper. But when you start to add star after star that gets paid handsomely, you begin to look at production budgets well past $300 Million. And what about screen time? In order to have more views per show, length is a major concern. But who gets the most screen time if you have A-List stars jocking for top billing if you only have 2 hours and 30 minutes to tell the story?
Speaking of story, at what point do the films stop feeling like films and begin to feel like television episodes? No slight to the Marvel Universe, but out of the 19 films they’ve released before Infinity War, I had only seen 10 and still understood what was going on. That tells me that, yes, it’s connected. But not connected story-wise enough to confuse me even when I hadn’t seen the proceeding 3 films.
So can a film work where, if it fits the narrative, other films exist in the same universe? I believe they can. And had we paid attention to it, we would have seen the perfect person. In August of 2018, Jason Blum answered a fan’s question of taking over the ‘Dark Universe’ with a simple “Yes!!!!”. For those wondering, he is the founder of Blumhouse Productions that recently released Upgrade, which was directed by Leigh Whannell. And now, Leigh Whannell will direct The Invisible Man for Universal Studios. With this new direction, the studio appears to be utilizing a new take on the ‘shared universe’ approach.
Filmmakers will be able to create their own unique stories without being tied to connect them to ongoing storylines. The Invisible Man won’t be the only film to work this way. Apparently, other ideas are coming together around different characters to be filmed, thus preserving character legacies.
“Throughout cinematic history, Universal’s classic monsters have been reinvented through the prism of each new filmmaker who brought these characters to life,” said Peter Cramer, Universal’s president of production. “We are excited to take a more individualized approach for their return to screen, shepherded by creators who have stories they are passionate to tell with them.”
We don’t know if The Invisible Man will be the next ‘Monster’ film just yet. But what we do know is that Universal’s new monster strategy will be rooted in horror. It won’t be restricted to budget, tone, or rating. And the best part? No expectations that the films will exist as part of a shared universe. Directors having creative freedom will be the catalyst for the character origin stories and may even include different interpretations.
What about the previously casted characters from the defunct ‘Monsters Universe’? They’ll still have the option to reprise their roles if they so choose. But the directors creating the films will be the driving force and should the actors like the new story, they can continue the roles. Add that Blumhouse has produced stellar films with very little budget and the chance to earn profits looks promising. After all, creating an entertaining film that may or may not be connected should be the foundation. Building a world on top is just a benefit.