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Alex Kurtzman on What People Expect from Universal Monsters

Alex Kurtzman on What People Expect from Universal Monsters

It was clear from the first few minutes of talking to director Alex Kurtzman about his vision for The Mummy that he truly loves and has reverence for the classic Universal Monsters. His earliest cinema memory is watching James Whale’s original Frankenstein, specifically the infamous scene of the creature, played by Boris Karloff, meeting a little girl by a body of water. The moment where he goes from sympathetic to horrific is, to Kurtzman, the essence of what will be the new shared universe, beginning with next summer’s The Mummy. “It is the ability to fear the monster and fear FOR the monster.”

The main tenet of The Mummy–and indeed any future Universal Monster movie–is that the titular monster not be a one-note baddie. “It means getting to know the monster,” Kurtzman said, “not just giving them random lines of bad-guy dialogue; it means actually giving the monster a story.” He added that it’s the sympathy and understanding of the various monsters that separates a “monster movie” from just some other horror movie. Universal understands this, since the studio was founded on making monster movies dating all the way back to the early ’20s. Kurtzman told us that during initial talks about the project, “there was a tremendous sense of pride [people from Universal] had in their monster heritage. They called them ‘our monsters’ and you could tell that they felt proprietary of their monsters.”

Much of the speculation and skepticism surrounding Kurtzman’s Mummy, and with the whole idea of a Universal Monsters shared universe, is that it might appear like an attempt by another studio to fit into the Marvel mode. Kurtzman is quick to dispel that notion. “The only way to [build a universe] is to not think in terms of building a universe,” he said. “You have to make great individual movies. If you do that, the audience will follow you. But it’s the audience that’ll get you there, not the mandate to do so.”

frankenstein-meets-wolfman

The director also pointed out it was Universal’s Monsters that populated cinema’s first shared universe. “If you look at the history of shared universes,” Kurtzman said, “the Monsters were the first ones, starting with Frankenstein Meets the Wolf-Man. They’d done several Frankenstein movies; the audience had fallen in love with Frankenstein and they hit the point where they didn’t know what else to do. Same thing with the Wolf-Man. So they said ‘Why don’t we put those two guys together?’ and the minute they did that, this whole new world opened up. Whether they did it by default or did it intentionally, they knew the audience needed to fall in love with the character first, and if they did that, the world would present itself.”

The reverence to the original ’30s and ’40s movies for this new world of Gods and Monsters will evidently extend to the look of each of the monsters when they finally appear, which Kurtzman maintains are the most iconic thing about Universal’s cadre of creatures. “Universal owns the rights to bolts in the neck, flattop head, green face,” he says. “So, if I take all that away and say ‘It’s still Frankenstein,’ you’re going to say ‘no it’s not.’ And if you ask a four-year-old child to draw Frankenstein, they’re going to draw bolts in the neck, flattop head, green face. It is culturally embedded, and even though the Universal Monsters have not been active for a long time, they’re still active on Halloween, and even a four-year-old can tell you who that character is.”

mummy-karloff

For The Mummy specifically, Kurtzman looked at the original 1932 film starring Karloff, which opens with a scene of the bandaged mummy waking up and walking out of his sarcophagus. For the rest of the movie, he’s wearing a robe and doesn’t visually look much like a mummy, but, Kurtzman explains, “These designs are this way for a reason and the more we change them, the more people are going to reject them. We have to stay true to what they are.” So, you likely noticed Sofia Boutella’s mummy in the trailer having bandages hanging off of her. This won’t change as the film goes on. “In this movie, there was talk about the Mummy and her bandages and people said ‘aren’t they going to fall off of her?’ and my feeling is, No! No one gives a shit! She’s got to wear the bandages [to be a mummy], and when she takes the bandages off, she’s just a person.”

Based on Kurtzman’s explanation, the franchise is starting on the right, highly reverent note. Fans of Universal Monsters will expect a certain style, tone, and ethos to new versions of their movies, so if The Mummy doesn’t end up launching more films, as is Kurtzman and company’s hope, they will have at least gone about it nobly.

For more from Alex Kurtzman on The Mummy, be sure to read about the film’s connections to previous movies, and why Dr. Jekyll is in the movie.

Images: Universal


Kyle Anderson is the Associate Editor for Nerdist and a massive horror fanatic. You can find his film and TV reviews here. Follow him on Twitter!


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