Universal at 100
It’s remarkable enough when a person turns 100 years of age, but somewhat of an achievement in a capitalist society when a business entity celebrates its 100th anniversary while still retaining the charm that brought them popularity in the first place. Universal Pictures is still cranking out the kind of entertainment, and by that I mean some occasionally excellent genre films, as when they were branded in 1912.
Okay, I wasn’t alive in 1912 despite what some may say. And after all, Coke is still around after being introduced in 1886 although its formula today consists of corn syrup in place of the few ounces of coca leaves per gallon of syrup that attracted its 19th century fans. Movies on the other hand have wisely not diluted the formula, sometimes sophisticated and sometimes common denominator, that served them well in the first place.
By the way Universal isn’t the only studio celebrating a centenary. Paramount was actually founded first albeit in the same year. 20th Century Fox was incorporated in 1935, the result of a merger of Fox (1915) and Twentieth Century (1933). Disney was distributed by various companies (Columbia, RKO, United Artists) starting in the late 20s and didn’t become a studio per se until after WWII. Warner Bros. was involved in various way in the movie industry from the turn of the century but officially opened their studio in 1918. Columbia Studios while founded under another name in 1919 became Columbia several years later and was most recently acquired by Sony in 1989. An excellent overview of Columbia in the 30s, at that time considered the bastard son of movie studios, can be found in Frank Capra’s bio The Name Over The Title.
We’re not even mentioning the studios that’ve fallen by the wayside, like MGM. But the scope of this article deals with Universal and in particular their effort in 2012 to restore a dozen of their classic titles.
The restoration of classics like All Quiet On The Western Front, Dracula, Frankenstein, and more recently Jaws are important because these are more reputable indications of our 20th century state of being than atomic warfare, civil rights or the lack thereof, and ecological transformation. A quick glance at Universal’s release slate (on Wiki) shows a legacy that includes, in addition to the titles mentioned, Welles’ Touch of Evil, Hitchcock’s The Birds, von Stroheim’s Foolish Wives, To Kill A Mockingbird, Somewhere In Time, Weird Science, They Live, and need I add American Pie and Half Baked. Some of the Universal franchises include Ma and Pa Kettle, Francis the Mule (a personal favorite as the mule evolved into Mr. Ed from the same director Arthur Lubin), Jaws, Airport, and currently The Fast and Furious, and The Bourne Identity, which later this year gets a reboot with Jeremy Renner rather than Matt Damon.
And let’s get stoked on the Universal monsters, a classic line-up that began with Frankenstein, Dracula, The Mummy, The Invisible Man, and The Wolfman and continued until the mid-50s with The Creature From The Black Lagoon. Another Universal series, Abbott & Costello combined a handful of those monsters although more recently the same formula was considered a failure when the monsters reunited for Van Helsing, a film maligned perhaps unfairly because the CGI effects were rushed for a release date rather than for an artistic vision. If I was a Universal executive with the power of greenlight I would petition immediately for a monsters reboot that included vampires, werewolves, monsters and creatures with Larry the Cable Guy.
– Michael Bergeron