Universal are determined to make their Dark Universe happen. As the studio’s most iconic brand, and one of the oldest in film history, they’ve worked hard to revive it over the years in the hope of keeping up with Disney with an easily marketable and merchandise friendly series. With Tom Cruise’s The Mummy opening this week, the stakes are high for this intricately planned universe to battle with the likes of Marvel and Star Wars. Where those expanded universes have intellectual properties that don’t require the support of big stars, the Dark Universe is banking hard on its A-List ensemble, with future films set to include Javier Bardem as Frankenstein’s Monster, Russell Crowe as Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and Johnny Depp (ugh) as the Invisible Man (It should be noted that the average age of the four male leads in this franchise is 52; the age of the sole actress, Sofia Boutella, is 35. Just saying).
While Dracula remains nowhere to be seen following its flop attempt to set up the universe in Dracula Untold (Sorry, Luke Evans), director Alex Kurtzmann did announce that this shared universe would be expanding to include some other notable Universal Monster favourites:
“We know we’re going to do Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, Dracula, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Phantom of the Opera, Hunchback of Notre Dame, Invisible Man.”
Yup. The Phantom of the Opera. You know, that action movie favourite.
This is, if nothing else, a fascinating insight into how the studio hope to franchise these icons of horror cinema. The golden age of the Monsters was defined by its low-key approach and focus on scares and atmosphere. The original Phantom film with Lon Chaney is still surprisingly effective and easily the best adaptation of the book (sorry, Andrew Lloyd Webber). How do you take all that and mould it to fit a blockbuster sensibility? We saw how that worked with Dracula Untold, which wasn’t necessarily a bad idea - an origin story rooted in the real Vlad Tepes’ military history - just dully executed. But The Phantom of the Opera - and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, for that matter - aren’t well suited to that narrative. The story’s been adapted many times over the century with mixed results, but it’s also so explicitly defined in the public’s eyes by one very specific adaptation - the musical. Separating their take from that stage show, one of the most popular pieces of entertainment ever made, won’t be easy.
There are other questions to answer - who will play the Phantom? How closely will they stick to the book? Will he be deformed from birth or start out hot then get scarred as so many adaptations do? Which major A-Lister will they cast (Hugh Jackman, surely?) How many times will I shamefully pay to see this film (lots)? Is this a better or worse idea than casting Gerard Butler in the movie version of the musical? Only time will tell.
If you’re interested in a look at the various major adaptations of the story, check out Lindsay Ellis’s Loose Canon two-parter on the subject.