An Exploration Into The Constellation Of Cinematic Universes
Marvel Cinematic Universe, DC Multiverse, Potterverse... oh look, a black hole.
The extended Potterverse has begun, leaving plenty of time to come up with a better name for it. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them puts so much emphasis on building its cinematic universe, it fails to impress with actual content. But why are “nerd” IPs like Harry Potter and Hasbro toys so attractive for building a cinematic universe, but not one based on Groundhog Day or A Time To Kill? Why are nerds the masters of the universe?
Last year, I wrote about the exponentially growing number of movie universes, and I maintain that a Hasbro universe is a dumb idea. Although, why change a habit of a lifetime? Hasbro only commissioned a GI Joe series after then-President Reagan removed the regulations on product placements in cartoons. These days, the strategy lives on, with movies replacing cartoons and collectibles replacing toys.
Today, I’m more interested in the origins of this trend. Previously (in the Esquireverse), I mentioned that Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man was one of the first examples of building a cinematic universe, but no one has ever said, “Hey, why don’t we make a cinematic universe like Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man did?” There is a more relevant, nerd-favoured reference for universe building, but it isn’t a superhero or a series of novels; it’s Kevin Smith.
Smith is one of those people who self-identifying nerds have respect for, although can’t really remember why. But I can. See, back in 1994, Smith made an independent film called Clerks. It was in black and white, featured loads of dialogue, and was shot with unorthodox cinematography, so obviously, it was a huge hit when critics assumed this was artistic direction rather than, say, Smith not knowing much about filmmaking.
Clerks featured nerd characters, but they weren’t thick-glasseswearing, suspenders flicking, momma’s boys as pop culture suggested at the time; they were everyday people who liked Star Wars. Finally, the nerd community felt acknowledged, and they (we) loved it. Smith also inserted himself into the film as Silent Bob from the Jay and Silent Bob duo, and this would prove to be the start of something even bigger.
In his next few films—Mallrats, Chasing Amy and the excellent Dogma— Smith included Jay and Silent Bob again. Perhaps, this was just because he liked the characters, but what it meant for the nerd audience is that the Clerks universe was born. Cinematic universes have been owned by the fantasy and superhero genre ever since—helped along by source material that is its own universe, of course.
But you know what would be cool? A movie that exists in the same world as Gladiator or One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, or even The Truman Show (if it’s legal for a corporation to adopt a child, what else could be legal?). Superheroes and wizards don’t have to rule the multiverse. I’d be up for a Handmaiden universe. We could even call it “The Handmuniverse” since we’re apparently letting Potterverse slide.