Damien Chazelle’s incredible La La Land was the product of a young writer/director who tapped into his love and knowledge of classic films and musicals to craft a modern story which mixes the best of both worlds. He showed promise with the script for 10 Cloverfield Lane and his writing and directing on Whiplash. These early projects allowed him to gain the resources in Hollywood to ultimately knock it out of the park with La La Land. When the studio heads finally gave him the greenlight for his passion project, he ultimately produced a film that would earn 14 Oscar nominations (the highest any film has ever earned, tying Titanic and All About Eve) and win 6 Oscars (a feat matched by such films as The Godfather: Part 2, Star Wars, and one of La La Land‘s inspirations, An American in Paris). Not to trivialize the brilliant filmmaking, the expert cinematography, the beautiful songs, and the amazing chemistry of Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling… but the formula kind of makes sense, right? Find a young writer/director who is passionate about the history of film but has an eye for contemporary conventions, and- voila!- you have a movie that resonates with fans and critics alike!
Universal Monsters fans deserve something like that!
La La Land is simply dripping with the past, even as it stages some of the most amazing scenes in modern filmmaking. The movie feels like today, but it oozes the classics of yesteryear as it seamlessly slips into an augmented sense of Hollywood polish and flair during its various creative homages to the classics of the past.
And what do Universal Monsters fans get? A 1999 popcorn spectacle starring Brendan Fraser and CGI. This summer isn’t looking much better, as now we’ve got a 2017 popcorn spectacle starring Tom Cruise and CGI. To his credit, Cruise is a much better action star and he does do a ton of his own stunts. But when you think of the classic, gothic, atmospheric horror of yesteryear, do you really think of amazing stunts where Tom Cruise holds his breath for a long time? The film’s teaser poster featured a play on one of Ernest Thesiger’s famous lines from Bride of Frankenstein (“To a new world of Gods and monsters!), but the teaser trailer largely focused on a mind numbing plane crash.
And I get it: the budget for The Mummy (2017) is $125 million! With that kind of money at stake, Universal isn’t going to go completely back to its roots and offer an eager summer crowd- rabid for explosions and one-liners- something like this:
But does a movie like The Mummy really need a budget of $125 million? To this day, horror movies are the king of turning a minuscule budget into a box office phenomenon. Why should the new wave of films featuring the original monsters be any different? Face it, the names alone are so recognizable that fans would hit the theaters if the film were a fraction of the budget. And a lower budget always equals more creative freedom.
It would be nice if Universal remembered that it was atmospheric horror- not mindless action- that drove the Universal Monsters classics. Sure, fans were frightened by these scenes and these characters in ways that wouldn’t be possible for our sensory overloaded 2017 minds; but fear wasn’t the only emotion that horror fans of yesteryear felt. They laughed at the witty and unusual characters of James Whale’s Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein. They marveled in awe of the incredible gothic set pieces of The Wolf Man and Dracula, and they felt empathy for the underwater Creature and all of the other maladjusted anti-heroic title characters I’ve just named!
Universal needs to remember this when fleshing out the remainder of their contemporary cinematic universe. They took a step in that direction when it was revealed in April that Bill Condon (director of 2017’s Beauty and the Beast, and- more importantly- Gods and Monsters, the 1998 biopic which dramatized the later years of James Whale) was in talks to direct their new Bride of Frankenstein. But let’s face it, the news was coming off of the tremendous success of Beauty and the Beast, and I’m sure Universal’s looking to replicate that success with a remake of what’s routinely called the greatest of the Universal Monsters films. But big budget movies don’t allow for big risks. La La Land‘s budget was just $30 million… it didn’t have to prove much at the box office before it could begin to make money. The gamble paid off: it’s earned nearly $443 million worldwide!
So, even if The Mummy is a smash hit at the box office when it launches this June (and especially if it isn’t), maybe Universal could throw us longtime Monsters fans a bone and give someone a shot at truly blending the past and the present with a legitimate love letter to the silver screen creatures that still keep us up at night! Robert Eggers proved with 2016’s The Witch that critics and fans will support a small budget prestige horror film that leaves behind the contemporary tropes which plague modern movies. Sure, the Fast and the Furious crowd won’t come out to see it, but the Universal Monsters crowd will have something new to really fall in love with. And I’m sure there are many talented up-and-comers who also love the source material and would do anything for a shot at respectfully mixing it with modern cinema. Who knows… maybe Damien Chazelle likes monsters as much as he likes musicals!