Alex Kurtzman talks THE MUMMY, Dr. Jeykyl's role, if DRACULA UNTOLD is canon, and more!

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Yesterday we saw the first full trailer for Universal’s upcoming The Mummy reboot drop online. And damn did it actually look cool. Well, except for that one moment where star Tom Cruise screamed for his life like Arnold Schwarzenegger on helium. Other than that though, it appears that Universal’s new shared monster movie universe could be off to great start.

Second time’s the charm, I guess, as originally 2014’s Dracula Untold was supposed to be the movie that got this whole monster ball rolling, but negative reviews may have derailed that plan. The movie’s modern day set open-ending meant that it could indeed still be part of the new universe, and director Gary Shore even recently indicated that Universal could still tie it in if they wanted to. Well, apparently they don’t, as The Mummy director Alex Kurtzman – who is also overseeing this entire new universe as producer – revealed to Collider:

Collider: Dracula Untold. Canon or not?

“No.”

Collider: Good.

Well, that was straight to the point. ComingSoon also confirmed in a separate interview with Kurtzman that the most famous vampire of them all would indeed be showing up in the new monsterverse at some point, but that it would be a completely different version as what Luke Evans portrayed on-screen. Strangely enough though, Kurtzman went to reveal that he considers the original classic monster movies, with Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, etc, to actually be canon though.

“You know what? [hesitant] I will say, absolutely. Those movies exist in continuity.”

Interesting… As Kurtzman revealed though, it sort of makes sense to have these movies as part of this new shared universe, since they were actually the original shared universe.

“The thing people forget is that the Universal Monsters were the first mash-up; they were the first universe built. It started with, I think, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, and that was the first time that they put them together and then from there they started cross-pollinating all the monsters. But that was only because Frankenstein had succeeded so many times as a film, and had spawned its own sequels, and Wolf Man had done the same, that Universal was at a point where they said, “God, we don’t know what to do with these characters anymore. Why don’t we put them together?” and then new stories emerged.”

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And so Kurtzman and Universal are intent on making these new movies good first, before they start even thinking of pulling off Avengers styled crossovers of their own.

“I can’t tell you how much I believe that in order for you to enjoy The Mummy, you have to have a satisfying mummy experience. If we are then in that context able to set up a larger world? Great! But the setup of that larger world and whatever characters Tom may meet over the course of the mummy movie have to be part of the mummy movie. It cannot take you out of that.”

“I’m not going to sit here and pretend I can tell you exactly how they’re all going to come together. I think we have a lot of ideas. I mean, we have a *lot* of ideas. And a lot of things that are very exciting. But, to me, the fun of the promise of bringing them together is that they’re probably going to f–k each other up pretty badly… We’re not necessarily going to do ‘The Avengers.’ There might be reasons for this character and that character to come together, because the story tells us that’s what the story wants. The story is what drives the choice. And if down the line, there’s a big reason to bring them together, then great. But I promise, we’re not starting there.”

As I mentioned yesterday, I wasn’t quite sure how an Avengers styled crossover would even work, seeing as these monsters are traditionally the “villains” of their respective movies who get beat by their respective heroes. However, in the trailer for The Mummy there was an interesting development as Tom Cruise’s character appeared to die and then be resurrected, leading me to theorize wildly that maybe he would become a newer Mummy that would feature in a crossover. Kurtzman isn’t ready to spill the beans on that, but does hint in another Collider interview that Cruise’s Special Forces character Nick Morton could be in for a unique journey.

“When we were developing the script and I knew that Tom was going to do the movie, the first thing that we talked about was, I said, “Listen…” I’d worked with Tom on Mission [Impossible] III, and I said, “I have 30-plus years of embedded ‘Tom Cruise is going to save the day’ in my experience and my relationship to you, as an actor. And the problem is in a monster movie, the scariest monster movies are the ones where the protagonist starts to feel very out of control. So how am I going to believe that you’re really out of control, because I know you’re going to save the day, you know?”

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“And what we came to is the idea that if you present him as somebody who thinks he knows what’s going on and then you throw the craziest thing at him in the world, which is, “Oh shit, he dies and then comes back up in that morgue,” now I go, “Okay, he doesn’t know what he’s into, I don’t know what he’s into, I don’t know that he’s going to save the day.” And everything became very unpredictable at that point. So in terms of what I want the conversation to be about there, it’s interesting you said “Oh my god, I’ve never heard Tom scream in fear before.” That’s exactly it. That’s exactly it. He’s never been in that position before.”

Collider: If Tom Cruise is coming back from the dead in this narrative, does that make him “The Mummy?”

“Great question. [Long pause.]”

And speaking of Tom Cruise coming back from the dead, the Hollywood star has built up a reputation for putting his life on the line with death-defying practical stunts, and for The Mummy that’s no different. As seen in the trailer, the film boasts quite a plane crash that sees the actors tossed around inside like a zero-gravity tumble dryer. And thanks to Cruise and his craziness, they all had to do it for real, body fluid projection be damned.

“Our goal was to do as much practically as we could, and we really committed to that. So there’s a plane crash sequence and traditionally when you do a plane crash sequence inside of a plane, what the studio will tell you is, “Okay, fine, you’re going a rotisserie set and you’re going to do a lot of green screen work on the set and we’re going to do cables and blah-blah-blah,” right? Now to some extent, if you want it to be a visceral experience and you want to go there, you do need to build, at the very least, a rotisserie, which essentially is a massive set that rotates so you can have the visual experience of it, so you and the camera can move through that space steadily enough to capture all the actors tumbling all over the place. It’s the kind of thing that [Christopher] Nolan did in Inception, [Stanley] Kubrick pioneered it in 2001. It is kind of the most immersive way to go.

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That being said, when I brought this up with Tom [Cruise], I said, “Here’s what we’re going to do, we’re going to build the set,” he said, “Yeah, yeah, but we’ve got to do it for real.” I was like, “What do you mean?” He’s like, “We’re going to up in the vomit comet and we’re going to shoot the whole sequence there too.” I said, “Yeah, but we can’t do it ALL in the vomit comet because the sequence is so extensive.” He said, “I know, we’re going to build that rotisserie set, we’re going to do part of it there and we’re going to do part of it in the vomit comet.”

Do you know how it works, the vomit comet? So you go up, basically with the Gs of a rocket going into space. Then you even out and everything starts to go weightless, and then you free-fall for 22 seconds and everybody goes up in the air. We had grips holding lights and puking while the shot was going on. I mean, it was the craziest experience ever and ultimately worth it because I think, again, our whole thing was “Let’s do this without cuts. Let’s really do this so that you can actually stay in this shot and watch these guys float around and go, ‘How the hell did they do it?’”

So that is what we did. Everything in that plane is totally practical and, traditionally, a lot of that would have been people on wires against a green screen. And the funny part is, if you were to cost both at the end of the day, it actually is probably the same. So for what we wanted to do, which is put you guys in this totally immersive environment and make you feel like you were there, it’s those kinds of decisions that make a huge difference – huge, huge difference – just the experience of a moment like that.

[But] here’s the thing, you have to take a bag with you and you have to hold it right here, and the hope is that when you do vomit you manage to grab all of it in the bag before the chunks float off into space.”

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Well, that sounds lovely. So before you lose your chunks, let’s switch topics to actual Mummy, played by Sofia Boutella. This will be the first time the classic monster is going to be played by a woman, which was not the original plan, but a development that helped them differentiate themselves from what came before. Stephen Sommer’s fantastic 1999 version of The Mummy, which saw Arnold Vosloo in the role

“The minute we did that, a whole door opened up. A whole world opened up. Because her story got to be different, it became ‘What happened to her 5,000 years ago?’ How does SHE become a mummy?”

In both the classic movies with Boris Karloff as well as the more recent ones with Arnold Vosloo, both played a condemned Egyptian high priest named Imhotep. For this new version, Boutella would play an Egyptian princess named Ahmanet. Just how she becomes a mummy is being kept under wraps for now… much like she will be, as Kurtzman explained that while they tried to make the character as contemporary as possible, there’s one classic element that had to be there: bandages.

“You look at the Karloff Mummy. Which is one of my favorite movies and definitely of the Mummy movies has been the one that’s influenced me the most in the making of this one. It starts with a terrifying scene. The Mummy wakes up, because the words are spoken, and he gets up and he walks out the door. And that’s it. And for the rest of the movie, Karloff’s in a robe. But you don’t remember any of that. What you remember is Karloff in the bandages…

There was the question, ‘Well wouldn’t the bandages just fall off her?’ And my feeling was, ‘No! No one gives a sh-t!’ She’s gotta wear the bandages and if you take the bandages off, she’s just a person. That’s where I start to feel like the movies stops to work. So, then it became the fun of, ‘Where do the bandages come from? What’s the story?’”

That wasn’t the only classic look that will be around though. When Kurtzman was first contracted by Universal to shepherd this new movie universe, one of the first things he did was sit down with concept artists to try and update the look of these monster while still retaining their signature features.

“Creature from the Black Lagoon, Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, Hunchback, Phantom of the Opera, Dr. Jekyll, The Mummy,” Kurtzman rattles off. “I can go on and on. Wolfman. Universal owns the rights to [Frankenstein]’s bolts-in-the-neck, flat-top head, green face. So now you take all that away, and I’d say, “But it’s still Frankenstein”, you’re going to go, “No, it’s not.” And if you ask a four-year old child to draw Frankenstein for you, they’re going to draw bolts in the neck, flat-top head and green face. It is culturally embedded. That is the world we live in, it’s not going away.”

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And it’s putting these monsters in that modern world we live in that gave the stories a unique twist on previous versions.

“[We asked ourselves] ‘What would it be like if we took a real monster and put that monster in our world?,”” Kurtzman continues. “Not in a fake world, but our world. What would that be like? How would it react to us, and how would we react to it? I think that the question of where magic and science meet has always been something that interested me… [O]ne of the things that I loved about The Mummy — that was very unique to both the Mummy and to Dracula — was that the Mummy had the power to mesmerize. Karloff had the power to mesmerize. He could get in your head, he could make you do sh-t. And that was really scary.”

But of course in this “real” world, monsters don’t exist. Or at least people don’t know they do. And this is where Russell Crowe comes in. As has been previously reported, he will be playing Dr. Jekyll of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde fame, in The Mummy. But don’t expecting him to hulk out though, as he serves a very different purpose here, as a monster expert that knows all about this secret monster world.

“It was something we debated for quite some time. Because there was a couple things we came to understand as we were developing the script. We wanted to understand the context of the mummy in the larger world. And we wanted to know that monsters existed for millennia. And we knew that as the story evolved there was going to be an organization that was maybe cataloging them, following them. Collecting them. That would determine the good ones from the bad ones. That was sort of the keeper of that secret history.

And we said, ‘Well, we could make up a character who is going to be the voice of that. Or we can look to monster mythology and ask, ‘Is there a character we can fit into the Mummy story that wouldn’t detract from the Mummy story, but, in fact, enhance it?'”

“And part of what Tom’s character, Nick, learns about the mummy and about the history of the mummy comes through Jekyll’s very deep understanding of monsters and how monsters have been existing quietly in this world for eons.”

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But Crowe’s Jekyll won’t just be there to spout exposition. With his own monstrous alter ego, there’s a big part of the story going on with him as well.

“To have a character who is as morally challenged as Tom’s character at the beginning of the movieWho’s suddenly thrown into a situation that’s going to test where on the spectrum of humanity he really lies. You’re talking now about a character at a movie that’s exploring how much human and how much monster is really going to exist in this guy, and where is the line between them? And both of those two things exist in one character. And one person. Well, I could also be talking about Dr. Jekyll now.”

And it’s that dichotomy that appeals to Kurtzman the most, since these monsters are not inherently evil. That’s why these are not horror movies, but monster movies, and there’s a big difference as demonstrated in the classic movies.

“I got to the scene where Frankenstein sees the little girl by the water’s edge. Frankenstein has just been chased out of town and everyone thinks that Frankenstein is a monster. All Frankenstein wants is to make a human connection and to be loved. Then Frankenstein meets this little girl and, because she’s a child, she just sees a guy who just wants to play.

He kneels down with her and there’s this lovely scene. She shows him flowers and she throws flowers in the water. They float and she says, “Isn’t this wonderful?” So he picks her up and throws her into the water and she drowns. As a kid, this really f–ks you up. You have the experience of going, ‘I really feel for this creature, but look at what this creature is capable of doing.” To me, that’s what defines a monster. That’s what separates a monster movie from a horror movie or a slasher movie. It is the ability to fear the monster and to fear for the monster… It speaks to what is psychologically frightening about monster movies. They hit something primal, emotional.”

We’ll see if Kurtzman and co will be able to hit that same primal emotion when The Mummy is released in theatres on June 9, 2017. After that we’ll also see new versions of The Wolfman, The Invisible Man (with Johnny Depp), Bride of Frankenstein (Javier Bardem has signed on to play Frankenstein’s monster), and Van Helsing.

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Last Updated: December 6, 2016

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