Saturday, November 15, 2014

Universal Studios to take the Horror out of their Classic Monsters

You can't say I didn't warn you of this.  The Hollywood Reporter sat down with the heads of the major studios for a roundtable discussion of their future plans, and Universal announced the studio will turn their Classic Monster Universe into a realm of superheroes and villains.

If you don't want to scroll through the article, here's the message delivered by Universal Studio's Donna Langley....
Donna and Brad, how do you get into this game? Donna has said that Universal's monster movies are not competitive with the superheroes.
LANGLEY To Alan's point, we have to mine our resources. We don't have any capes [in our film library]. But what we do have is an incredible legacy and history with the monster characters. We've tried over the years to make monster movies — unsuccessfully, actually. So, we took a good, hard look at it, and we settled upon an idea, which is to take it out of the horror genre, put it more in the action-adventure genre and make it present day, bringing these incredibly rich and complex characters into present day and reimagine them and reintroduce them to a contemporary audience.

Yep, the studio failed to deliver decent horror films over the years, so rather than figure out how their previous attempts went astray, the studio heads have decided to turn their library of Classic Monsters into action heroes and villains.

And, giving the additional footage inserted into Dracula Untold, as well as the CGI heavy action sequences in the film, one can't help but feel the studio is banking on turning their creatures of the night into supernaturally powered versions of the characters they are competing with in the Marvel and DC Cinematic Universe.

And you can't say I didn't see this one coming.  I was writing about the problems Universal had translating it's Classic Monster franchise to modern audiences back in 2012, as a writer for Planet Fury.  And, although I can not find a link to my article, as the website is closed (I would have provided a link for this article, but it wasn't available.  You'll have to take my word on this.), here's a quote from my computer of the article I wrote back in July, 2012 concerning the studio's attempt to launch an online game filled with their Classic Monsters.

And this screen shot.
As to the game, I can’t comment on how it looks.  But I can say that I doubt the programmers and designers have never seen a Universal monster movie before, as the game’s objective is to, “Defeat your opponents – get the girl!”

Had the game designer had watched a film like Creature from the Black Lagoon, they’d understand why the Gill-Man shouldn’t get the girl.  Yes, he might be a misunderstood monster looking for a mate, but we know date rape would not be problem for him.  And the Frankenstein’s Monster doesn’t have a stellar track record with girls (though, judging by the site’s artwork, the damsel in the game is at least 18 years old).  The goal of having the monster return to their base with the girl ignores the simple fact that the monster has plans that aren’t in her best interest.

No, nothing nefarious going on here.

Besides, turning the monsters into heroic figures robs them of their power, the mix of sympathetic creature and terrifying beast that makes them special.  Instead, players will control another superhero with a set of special attacks and abilities, at least as long as you have your credit card handy (of course, Bigpoint is going to make a buck off this “free” game).

Fans shouldn’t be surprised that Universal is mismanaging their monster franchises.  The studio has a history of missteps and mistakes date back to the late 30s, and the most recent efforts to revitalize the monsters (Van Helsing and The Wolfman) were colossal flops.  Yet it’s surprising the studio can’t make the monsters work for a modern audience.  After all, the early films followed a similar game plan to Marvel Studio’s recent success with The Avengers.  All Universal need do is find talented filmmakers with an enthusiasm for the project, or the skill sets to make each creature shine, then produce a series of fun, successful solo outings before bringing all of them together for a big monster mash. 
Wow, can't say I didn't see this one coming.

As for their current plans, I think Universal is over thinking things.  Rather than try to make a blockbuster series right off the block, the studio should reintroduce their Classic Monsters in a series of more modestly budgeted films.  This approach, coupled with filmmakers who have an understanding of the Classic Monsters rather than those interested in generating a franchise, would introduce a new generation of filmgoers to what makes these monsters so special, while keeping the elements that resonate for older fans.  And a lower budget will allow the studio to up the budget for the following films while garnering audience interest into these characters, until they can release an all-out brawl worthy of the Universal name.

But no.  Rather than blazing a new trail, one more rooted in horror rather than super-heroics, delivering moviegoers something they haven't seen in a long while, Universal is intent on forging the monsters into the realm of superheroes.

After all, why tell a story when we can do this?

I guess it's easier to CGI a massive fist of bats than write a script that is scary or original.  I'm just glad to have the original films on DVD, so I don't have to watch this catastrophic mess in the making.

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