Warning: SPOILERS for The Last Voyage of the Demeter are in play. If you haven’t booked passage to sail with Count Dracula yet, you’ve been warned.
Once upon a time, the world was told to prepare to enter a universe of darkness. More specifically, that time was summer 2017, and that place was Universal’s Dark Universe that was supposed to start with Tom Cruise’s The Mummy. As we all know, that film pancaked at the box office, and a whole slate of Universal Monsters reboots gave up the ghost as a result.
It’s a shame, because I truly feel that if this weekend’s The Last Voyage of the Demeter was the real starting point, the franchise might have actually survived. Not only is director André Øverdal’s winged creature feature a movie of great quality, it represents everything the Dark Universe needed for a proper foundation. Spoilers lurk ahead, so I must warn you to turn away if you don’t want to learn anything before experiencing the adventure for yourself.
Was The Last Voyage Of The Demeter Supposed To Be The Dark Universe’s Dracula?
Let’s straighten out one important question that’s been sailing around for some time: was The Last Voyage of the Demeter supposed to be the Dracula of the Dark Universe? No, it absolutely was not, as revealed in ReelBlend’s chat with director André Øverdal.
With a development history that stretches back to writer Bragi Schut Jr.’s initial idea from the early 2000s, the Dreamworks/Amblin Partners production is something that predates Universal’s big gamble by over a decade. And yet, the idea to flesh out the story of “The Captain’s Log” from Bram Stoker’s Dracula novel could have very easily supplanted even the earliest inklings of the Dark Universe.
It certainly could have replaced 2014’s Dracula Untold, which was supposed to be the proper start of this series before it was disowned in favor of The Mummy. Not to mention, it would have been a more fitting launchpad for a burgeoning cinematic universe.
The Last Voyage Of The Demeter Would Have Set The Stakes For Success Properly
Let’s talk dollars and cents here, dear readers. Based solely on production budgets, the estimated $70 million cost of Dracula Untold and the $120-195 million figure estimated to make The Mummy were both pretty costly gambles. Meanwhile, keeping the focus solely on production costs, The Last Voyage of the Demeter comes in at a much more reasonable $45 million price tag.
While it’s not certain that the new spin on Dracula would have brought in as much money as both of those previous attempts scored in theatrical release, the bar of success would have been set much lower. As a mid-budget franchise starter, The Last Voyage of the Demeter would have been a fantastic debut for the Dark Universe to call its starting phase.
If the Corey Hawkins-led ensemble picture had made waves in theaters in this hypothetical reality, it would have already contained the next logical step for this universe’s continuation. This is where the real spoilers are, provided you aren’t already versed in The Last Voyage of the Demeter’s source material.
A Dark Universe Dracula Would Have Made An Easy Continuation
It’s not exactly a spoiler if you know the story of Dracula, but at the end of The Last Voyage of the Demeter, our vampire passenger makes it to London. Cue Jonathan Harker’s dismay and Van Helsing’s stake sharpening, as the next potential chapter of the Dark Universe would have been a retelling of the Bram Stoker story fans know and love.
Rather than inventing a new origin for Dracula Untold, Universal’s grand plan could have kept it traditional, with a solid narrative arc already in play. You could have even sold Demeter as a surprise entry point into the overall story, just like Split turned out to be a secret bridge between Unbreakable and Glass.
The whole purpose of this exercise was to bring the Universal Monsters back to the movies. So starting with one of the most memorable legacies, a one-two punch of fresh and familiar would have made for a killer combo. Better still, by using the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a template, a more sustainable future may have been in the cards as well.
Period Piece Universal Monsters Reboots Would Have Made The Perfect “Phase 1”
You need a plan when it comes to kicking off a cinematic universe, and if Kevin Feige’s playbook is any indication, it’s the “phases” that make it happen. Now the Dark Universe did have a plan in the works, and it was announced in such a fashion that people still celebrate its anniversary. Who can forget this infamous family portrait for Universal and its monstrous revival?
Witness the beginning of a #DarkUniverse. pic.twitter.com/8g9eIbQfGaMay 22, 2017
Does anyone else see anything wrong with this picture? How about the fact that Tom Cruise’s The Mummy, despite being uber-modern, was building a bridge to stories from the past? Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe) and his history with Prodigium wove a whole era of stories that would have more than likely taken place in period-appropriate settings.
So why not kick things off with The Last Voyage of the Demeter and Dracula, keeping the entire Dark Universe in an appropriate time frame? Such a development would have also made a fourth Brendan Fraser Mummy movie much easier to greenlight, allowing the world to totally sidestep the Tom Cruise variant overall.
Getting this first phase right with a stable lineup of stories could have left plenty of room to jump into the future. Alas, those first steps originated with a very haphazard production, rather than something of the quality that came out of The Last Voyage of the Demeter.
The Last Voyage Of The Demeter Is Just That Good Of A Movie
Hindsight allows me to make all of these guesses at how the Dark Universe could have flourished with this story at the helm. But none of it makes sense without one simple fact that I subjectively hold as truth: this Dracula-adjacent movie is a fantastic fright fest.
While our review of The Last Voyage of the Demeter rated the film two out of five stars, I would disagree with that assessment greatly, and I’m not the only person who feels that way. Social media reviews from both Stephen King and Guillermo del Toro have started a tide of sentiment supporting André Øverdal’s latest effort as something worth watching.
Though critical reaction to The Last Voyage of the Demeter seems to focus on the same subjective set of problems, I think the movie is a perfectly-paced slow burn that unfurls into holy terror. A moderately budgeted movie can survive such conflicting opinions, especially if marketed the right way. Without the baggage of Dracula Untold and The Mummy, we could have seen a surprise hit reigning over this collection of frightful tales.
Considering how Dracula Untold grossed $217.1 million internationally in 2014, those sorts of results would have looked much more favorable with Demeter’s modest budget. Provide the right undercurrent of buzz, and this movie could have been the shot to the arm the Dark Universe sought from the market almost a decade ago.
It’s not too late to potentially right the Universal Monsters ship, despite the fact that projects like The Bride of Frankenstein have defected to other studios, with that particular remake now being set up at Netflix. If The Last Voyage of the Demeter had become a bonafide box office success years earlier, a proper Dark Universe successor could dawn after all. And since Brendan Fraser is still game for that fourth Mummy movie, that’s only a good thing. For now, if you’re willing to give it a much deserved shot, The Last Voyage of the Demeter is currently in theaters and waiting to find its audience.