Turn off the Dark: The Aborted Attempts to Reboot the Universal Monsters
With news from The Hollywood Reporter that Universal's "Dark Universe," a planned shared universe of films featuring reboots of all its classic monster movies, we are left to wonder: why do they keep doing this? It's been done before, and it never works.
Mostly. Actually, it has worked once, for one character: The Mummy. 1999's remake of the horror tale as more of an Indiana Jones-type adventure spawned a spin-off series of Scorpion King movies, a cartoon, and theme-park rides. Only in 2008, when they tried to substitute in a martial-arts Mummy and a new female lead did that franchise come to a close.
But along the way, many have fallen. Let's take a look:
Van Helsing (2004) - If you thought Batman V. Superman tried to launch too many characters, dig this: Mr. Hyde, Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Wolfman were all rebooted at once to take on Hugh Jackman as (in the wake of The Mummy, of course) an Indiana Jones-like Van Helsing. At one time, a Van Helsing movie had been proposed as a sequel to Bram Stoker's Dracula, starring Anthony Hopkins, but ultimately Universal tried to go for a full-on monster relaunch. It did well, but was not ultimately well-liked, with a CG-heavy look and video-game-ish story that weren't really in the spirit of the atmospheric, practical old films.
The Wolfman (2010) - Going back to the notion that maybe one character at a time was best, Universal heavily promoted the idea of Benicio del Toro in practical make-up effects as a combo unbeatable to film geeks and old-school monster fans. But while del Toro stuck around and did his best, creative differences led to CG being necessary to save time when Joe Johnston finally came aboard to replace Mark Romanek as director. Ultimately, a computer-generated Anthony Hopkins werewolf as the surprise third-act reveal was ugly and underwhelming, leaving audiences walking out pissed off and forgetting the ample charms that preceded that fatal flaw.
Dracula Untold (2014) - Rather than rely on the classic Bela Lugosi look that they actually own, Universal tried this time to tie the count's origin in more with the history of Vlad the Impaler, who becomes a vampire to save his son's life. While mostly a period piece, the movie culminates in the modern era with hints of a larger demonic conspiracy that an essentially noble Dracula will have to contend with. A pre Beauty and the Beast Luke Evans had not yet grown into his larger-than-life Gaston charisma, and the war with the Ottomans storyline led to some rather uncomfortable visuals of Muslims being mass-murdered. The movie was a financial success, but sequels were not pursued in its direction.
The Mummy (2017) - Jumping the gun by announcing a shared universe before the initial entry was even a guaranteed hit, Universal went for big names again, luring Russell Crowe and Tom Cruise aboard, against a female Mummy played by Sofia Boutella, a familiar face to genre fans. Many, many things went wrong, particularly director Alex Kurtzman's inability to challenge Cruise, but also the realization that this was a Van Helsing-style kitchen-sink approach all over again...and somehow even less fun.
It's too much to hope that they won't try this again. But in the meantime, all the originals are right there on Blu-ray for you to enjoy as new, and no amount of botched remakes can spoil that.