In Hollywood, Alex Kurtzman is known for many things. He helped pen the first two movies of Michael Bay’s “Transformers” franchise, is a producer on the “Star Trek” franchise, and is the executive producer on numerous TV shows like “Scorpion” and “Hawaii Five-O.”
But now he’s taking on his most ambitious venture yet, launching some of the most iconic movie monsters into a franchise.
It was five years ago when Kurtzman got a call from Universal that they wanted to reboot “The Mummy” franchise, which was a hit for the studio in the late 1990s-early 2000s for its fun adventure stories and likable stars Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz.
Kurtzman was into the idea, but he wanted to bring an original feel to the story while also paying homage to not just the Fraser movies, but the original 1932 movie starring Boris Karloff as the monster.
With that, Dark Universe was born: a franchise in which the classic monsters of cinema’s past — Frankenstein, Dracula, The Invisible Man, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Wolf Man — would all be brought back to the screen in a modern setting.
“‘The Mummy’ existing in a larger world of gods and monsters began to emerge as a key idea,” Kurtzman told Business Insider. “And Tom was the first actor we went to.”
Navigating the Tom Cruise machine
That Tom is Tom Cruise, of course. In an era where the Marvel Cinematic Universe and DC Comics Extended Universe is already up and running, Universal needed a huge start to get Dark Universe off the ground.
Kurtzman has worked with Cruise in a screenwriting capacity since penning “Mission: Impossible III” back in 2006, so he was well aware of the hands-on approach Cruise takes with all his projects. But now, as the director of a Tom Cruise movie, Kurtzman saw first hand what it really entails.
“It’s a constant back and forth, a constant partnership,” Kurtzman said. “Breaking down how we approach the filmmaking, everything is a conversation, nothing is taken for granted. He’s extremely thorough, he’s extremely knowledgeable, he’ll step on set and he’ll know exactly what is going on everywhere and that’s a tremendous benefit. When you’re making a movie this big it’s a benefit because there’s so much to handle in it and having his basic knowledge was great.”
And Kurtzman said he never felt Cruise would overstep his bounds, in fact, he found that Cruise needed him. “He’s an actor who really likes to be directed,” Kurtzman said. “He likes to take input and try different things and experiment. He’s never not done anything I’ve asked him to do.”
Showcasing broken characters
The notion of Tom Cruise in a reboot of “The Mummy,” that’s also the first in a series of monster movies, brought instant buzz when news hit the internet. But Kurtzman also felt the movie needed to work as a stand alone, too.
First, he teamed with screenwriter Jenny Lumet a year into development to change the Mummy character from a male to a female. Then, he used a plot device from the Karloff movie, that the Mummy has the power to control people’s minds, to develop a flawed hero.
“We have over 30 years of knowing Tom Cruise is going to save the day, in order to make the movie unpredictable I loved the idea that suddenly his control over the situation would be taken away from him,” Kurtzman said.
In doing this, the story revolves around Cruise playing a soldier of fortune named Nick Morton who discovers the tomb of an ancient princess (played by Sofia Boutella) and is cursed by her. This leads to Nick struggling to fight off the Mummy’s control while trying to save the world. (The movie also features Russell Crowe as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.)
“That got me excited, it felt like it served two purposes in that it honored a key Mummy power but it also made a Tom Cruise movie feel different and interesting,” Kurtzman said.
Where Dark Universe goes from here
Though Kurtzman is dealing with the critical backlash “The Mummy” is receiving, he’s focused on extending the Dark Universe.
“I’m working with the studio to begin to design the world and form a group of really smart writers and directors that I have grown up loving and admiring and use that collective experience to inform where we go from here,” he said.
The next movie set to come out of the franchise is “Bride of Frankenstein,” directed by “Beauty and the Beast” director Bill Condon (Kurtzman is a producer on the film). Also in the works is Johnny Depp as The Invisible Man and Javier Bardem as Frankenstein.
Kurtzman said the biggest challenge with this endeavor is finding a balance. The fans of the old monster characters should get a familiar feel and tone from the movies that brings them back to why they fall in love with them. But the movies should also have an original story that gives it a new and modern feel. That’s where the collective of talent being brought on comes in handy.
“My hope is with Dark Universe we will be able to bring in filmmakers like Bill [Condon] who bring their own signature to these films,” said Kurtzman, who added he’s open to directing another movie within Dark Universe in the future. “I want the directors to expand and build on the identity of the world.”