Alex Kurtzman: Unwrapping The Mummy

December 6, 2016
In the 2017, Universal is once again doing their darnedest to forge their old and much-loved monster properties into a unified and hopefully lucrative shared-world franchise. The Mummy is not necessarily the first such creature to come to mind, and first-time director Alex Kurtzman is not necessarily the first filmmaker, but the screenwriter-turned director tells us why he - and it - are the best possible choice.

Are you a fan of the old Universal Monster movies? What attracted you to them?

Frankenstein was my first, I think. Frankenstein, after being ousted by villagers was wandering in the countryside all by himself, encounters a little girl by the side of the river and they have this beautiful moment where because the girl doesn’t really know what a monster is – she looks up at this being and the being just wants to be loved and he kneels next to her by the river and they have this wonderful moment. And she picks a flower and she gives it to him and they look at it, and this is the first time that this monster has ever felt loved. And she takes the flower and she throws it into the water to show him that the flower floats, and he is so delighted by this that he picks her up and he throws her into the water and she drowns.

When you’re a child and you see a scene like that, where you are first immersed into this kind of beautiful poetry and this incredibly intense human connection that’s thwarted by this creature’s inability to understand both his own power, but also the danger of the world. He is immediately defined as a monster. And yet, he’s a monster whose motives are utterly human and relatable.

What did you think when Universal first approached you about taking on this project?

What uniquely defines a monster movie is that, I think, you both fear for the monster and fear the monster. And, to be able to do both of those things – to be afraid of it and afraid for it – is very, very unique. Because really what it does, is it requires you to care deeply and associate with that monster. Very rarely do you get an opportunity as a filmmaker – to take a monster movie and do it writ large. Do it in the biggest possible way, with the biggest possible star, all around the world – and so when Universal came to me and asked, “Do you want to do this?” my first thought was, “Can we protect the integrity of what I believe a monster movie is?” To my delight, they were wildly excited about doing that. And what emerged is this version of the movie.

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What makes the Universal Monsters ripe for adapting in a modern cinematic universe?

If you look at the Universal Monster’s history – they were the first ones to do a shared universe. It started with Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. And, that happened because there had been a series of very successful Frankenstein movies and they reached a point where they said we’re not sure what to do with Frankenstein anymore. And they did a series of very successful Wolf Man movies and they said we don’t know what to do with the Wolf Man anymore. Maybe we should put them together. Now that was the birth of the first true shared universe – it all started with the Monsters. And the reason that it worked was because the audience had a relationship to both those characters that ran deep. They got to know them and they got to love those monsters. And because you add that relationship you are able to put them together.

So our feeling is that that’s our approach. You gotta have a great individual movie, you gotta tell one great story. It’s gotta be fulfilling from beginning to end. And if there’s a way in that context to begin to seed a larger world of stories – that’s fine. But it cannot rob the story of its palette.

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You have Russell Crowe in the film playing Dr. Henry Jekyll, who is also obviously Mr. Hyde. How does that link in to the wider world you’re building?

Obviously Henry Jekyll is a character that everybody knows and the goal is always to figure out if you’re going to do something like that – and bring an iconic character into the world of another iconic character – you better have a good reason to do it. It’s gotta be organic, it’s gotta be deliberate, it’s gotta be meaningful. It can’t just be thrown in for no reason whatsoever. He begins to clue us into the history of monsters – the secret history of monsters over the course of viewing history and maybe even before. He is going to be the person who articulates this world to us. You need an actor with the greatest voice in the world and that’s Russell Crowe – so we went with Russell. What was really fun for us in thinking about having Henry in the movie was: how do we make him fit organically in this story? Hopefully that gives you a sense of context for that.

From the footage we’ve seen, this seems to lean heavily on action rather than horror. How is the ratio of action versus suspense?

I think that The Mummy is actually unique in that way because even from the beginning there was always an element of action to it. Certainly in the ‘90s and the Brendan Fraser version – there was a lot of action.  The key is to figure out a way to hold the audience in a state of suspense. Action isn’t mutually exclusive with that. You need a story and a situation that has so much pressure on the characters, that’s so complicated where the characters are forced to maybe do things that you know they obviously wouldn’t otherwise.

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One of the things that was very interesting about having Tom join the movie, is that you have 30 plus years of embedded awareness that ‘Tom Cruise saves the day’. And so the first thing that we did was figure out a story that was going to remove the equation of ‘Tom Cruise is going to save the day’ and now it becomes really interesting because I’ve never really seen a Tom Cruise movie where I wasn’t sure he was going to save the day. And again, back to your question of how much action versus how much suspense, I think from the minute that it starts there’s suspense. I think monster movies have elements of horror but they’re not defined by horror. My favourite directors are always the ones who kind of keep you in that state of suspense. And then when they give you a scene of horror, it’s all the more meaningful because it’s not happening all the time. It stands out. I think that this particular The Mummy, specifically, is defined by a nice balance between both adventure and incredible suspense and real scares and a lot of fun.

Check out this inside look featurette for the film.

The Mummy hits Australian cinemas on June 8, 2017.

 

 

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