The Download: Universal Taking a Page Out of Marvel and the 'Ouija' Trailer


This week on The Download, we talk about Universal taking Marvel's approach in reviving its classic movie monsters and the new Ouija trailer. Come and join in the discussion.

Binh: Have you heard? Instead of doing stand-alone movies, Universal is taking the Marvel route for the resurrection of the studio's classic movie monsters, so the narratives of the movies are going to be interconnected. Universal is putting Alex Kurtzman and Chris Morgan in charge of this effort. You like the idea?

Sara: I'm thrilled about this -- I'm a sucker for revivals and love the Universal monsters so my bias is a little obvious. But the real thrill of this Marvel-ized approach to the classics is that those benchmarks had a legacy too -- not a legacy in cinematography -- and that's something that would be AMAZING for Universal to exploit. The guys who made the films were largely Germans who'd escaped the Reich and the visuals are generally spectacular. I know that sounds somehow more academic than "Hulk Smash" but those horrors were so evocative and splashy and generally really base. I mean they're monsters. I'm excited. I have high hopes they won't screw it up!

Binh: You think the younger generations who didn't grow up with these monsters will be as thrilled as you about this? I'm not sure they know or appreciate the history here. I think The Expendables is a better comparison rather than The Avengers.

Jeff: I also wonder how much anyone at Universal cares about, you know, cinema. This is an effort to capitalize on intellectual property, and I don't have a lot of faith in the studio's willingness to hire the sort of auteur these movies might deserve. Ugh, remember The Wolfman?

Sara: I think the potential audiences is younger than Expendables age -- but since marvel's audience is downright diapered, anything looks ancient by comparison. Gosh, that's bent...

I was under the impression the monster movies had a similarly flexible lure -- like teen boys would love them but so would adults interested in the whole complex emotional troubles that paired with the monsters violent actions. It's just crazy this is attractive to "older crowds." Still, the monsters are revived in cycles -- not that I liked Benecio as the Wolfman -- but some of these revivals have been fun.

It's a rather sobering comparison because the audience for monsters always skewed older than the heroes--but today's sense of audience age is a little bent.

Jeff: I think there's loads of potential here. I just don't think Universal cares about telling untold stories with these characters; if they could turn each of the monsters into cheap, Voorhees-style slash factories that could fit comfortably into annual low-cost, reliable-return franchises, they'd be more than happy to do so. Found footage Frankenstein, anyone?

Sara: They could do it but they'd be fools to. Call me a chauvinist, but if you dress cheap you can expect to be treated that way.

Binh: Universal got Kurtzman and Morgan on the job – you know, the people behind Transformers, The Amazing Spider-Man, Star Trek, Fast & Furious, and others – so they're not exactly aiming for art here. I hope they will add more than chases and explosions.

Sara: You're falling into a faulty logic of extremes. There are a lot of ages between young and ancient and there are a lot of stops between art and Transformers. We're talking about a revival of intellectual property EVERYONE knows which means the heat's on to do something ingenious -- that's what those Germans were trying to do too but without computers and when it comes to special effects, the practical ones are regularly applauded. Lighting is another cheap effect that's worth its weight in gold. See what I'm on about?

Binh: I'm being facetious here, of course. I hope they succeed because everyone wins, but I know which demo they're prioritizing .

Jeff: I think the fact that these are such widely known stories is precisely why Universal can (and, I fear, probably will, at least to some extent) get away with lazier efforts. I'm not saying they aren't fools, just saying that this studio's stewardship of its properties hasn't left me with much faith vis a vis their creative willpower.

Binh: What do you think of Dracula Untold, Jeff? I'm not sure Luke Evans' Dracula will be a part of this effort going forward, but if the movie is well-received, I don't see why not.

Jeff: I like the idea of "untold" anything involving these characters. It's really just Universal that I'm worried about, I guess. You know, if they'd hired Guillermo del Toro to oversee this effort, I'd be much more positive about it.

Binh: Dracula Untold is Universal so you can see where they're trying to take this. One thing is for sure, the studio is willing to spend for the marque characters. The budget of Untold is reportedly $100 million. Isn't del Toro doing Frankenstein for Universal?

Jeff: I can't keep track of what del Toro is or isn't doing at any given moment. Having him do Frankenstein is great, but I'd rather have him in charge of the whole kit and caboodle -- and when he turns it into a cash cow, I'd love to see Universal divert some of that money into At the Mountains of Madness.

Sara: That's an awesome strategy. You should sell that. Or tweet?

Binh: I know what you're saying, Jeff. del Toro makes good movies, but he's not a consistent enough of a hit maker to be entrusted with something of this scale. If he has his way, he would making Hellboy 3 right now, which as we know is not going to be a box office performer. Universal knows this as well, that's why the third Hellboy is not going to happen.

Sara: But what the involvement of del Toro implies is his name instantly legitimizes--or at least get people excited about potential legitimacy. He's trusted not to sell out. You realize that's the lynchpin of this revival; whether or not we buy into the credibility.

Just realize we've eventually come to the point of making this whole Monster Mash into the anti-Marvel.

Binh: Let's move on to Ouija, you know, the movie based on Hasbro's board game. The trailer came out on Wednesday, and I'm quite surprised by it. Jeff did a writeup about it. I thought it would be something light, not a full bore horror movie. I mean, they want to move the board game and not scare people from it, right?

Sara: The conceit of an Ouija movie is really tricky. I mean Ouijas are supposedly a legit spiritual tool--and that's true whether you think the spirit realm is crap or real--I mean, we don't discredit telescopes because the users are dummies (no offense, astronomy). The whole "it's not even real, it's just a game" is very smart, because what's scary about the board is exactly that uncertainty. I actually expected the movie to be more like Blair Witch (I know "found footage horror" has been done to death) but what Blair Witch did was create a situation where legend was part of the scare--they had that awesome viral campaign about the history of the witch that people looked up like it was pre-screening homework.

In sum, Binh, you're very right about outright horror NOT helping the board games sell, but it's pretty screwy a board game company sold them to begin with. To make it look like there's death for you if you play the game is about as smart as leading a sales pitch for Dungeons and Dragons with frightened news stories from the 80s (I know you know what I'm referring to).

Binh: I think the movie arm of Hasbro has realized that they need to make a good movie if they are to do anything with the brand. What's the point if there are no sequels leading up to Ouija in Space, right?

Dungeons and Dragons has so much potential. Then Uwe Boll happened. That's all the time we have for this week. Until next time.

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