Hallmark's two-part made-for-television Frankenstein film ranks as a most faithful adaptation of the story. Contender UK R2 DVD.
Trapped somewhere in the Arctic ice, Captain Walton
(Donald Sutherland) and his crew spot two men racing across the snow on
sledges. The latter falls and the crew bring him aboard the ship.
Introducing himself as Victor Frankenstein, the man recalls his tale.
Born in Switzerland he grew up, with close friends Elizabeth and Henry,
and developed an obsession with life and death. Eventually he decides
that he cannot learn any more where he is, and elects to leave for
University - at the last moment joined by Henry - there he is taken
under the wing of Professor Waldman (William Hurt) and learns quickly.
In time he begins to discover the links between electricity and life,
and is able to bring, first a frog, then a dog back to life -
eventually he decides to construct a man. With a bolt of lightening he
is brought to life, but a terrified Victor causes his creation to flee.
As Victor recovers, tended too by Elizabeth, the creature finds itself
rejected by people, even some lonely peasants he comes to consider
friends, and angry at his loneliness, he seeks out his 'father', but on
the way encounters Victor's youngest brother William, whom he
accidentally kills. He later arranges to meet the Creature at a remote
castle, where he is entasked with constructing a mate for his
creation... or else...
Filmed by TV movie specalists Hallmark (now RHI) Entertainment and taking advantage of the extended run-time that a television screening can allow, Frankenstein
is, to date, the most accurate re-telling of Mary Shelley's story ever
produced. As with any adaptation, there are various minor changes made
throughout, many of them (like Henry accompanying Victor to University)
are just cosmetic and help the film to flow better, and the idea of
Victor and the creature meeting, not on the 'sea of ice' but in a
ruined castle, shows some superb adherence to the gothic horror genre,
that outdoes anything Shelley managed to achieve. Interestingly, there
are some more important changes that actually improve on the original
story, and correct a lot of the novel's flaws: Most notably, when
Victor is tasked with building a second creature, he does not undertake
on the lengthy and quite random sojourn to Scotland, as per the novel,
but instead returns to Ingolstadt where he is able to re-use his
equipment from the first experiment, while his accidental drifting out
to sea, and incredibly unlikely arrival in Ireland to be accused of
murder, is replaced by the same events, far more plausibly, occuring on
a lake near the town. However
there are two key changes made that actually damage the storytelling.
Firstly, the notion that the creature killed William, not in a fit of
rage, but by accident - in the novel, Victor later blames himself for
this death, because his abandoning of the creature lead to its
murderous rage, but with this change, the death could have occured even
if the creature were happily returning to his father's house. Similarly
the death of Justine occurs in the novel, with Victor presuming the
creature to be guilty, but unable to speak out his accusations, knowing
that he would be considered a madman, in this film he instead does
speak out his fears, only to be met with derision - again Victor
blaming himself for this death seems to be rather unnecessary since he
did everything he could to prevent it, placing the blame sqaurely on
the local Justice's shoulders. Ultimately, these two changes seem to
diminish the reason's for Victor's descent into self-loathing and
madness, and could quite easily have been left unaltered by the writers.
Aside from the Shelley novel, Frankenstein
tells its story well. The near 3 hour run time allows for plenty of
characterisation, and the links between Henry, Victor and Elizabeth are
well detailed in the film's opening and between Victor and his creation
later on, aided throughout by the very impressively written dialogue.
Later in the film, the use of ghostly apparitions and dream sequences
is an effective indication of Victor's madness. There are some hints of
a religious subtext to the film, the creature gazes at a cruiform image
of Jesus on a couple of occasions, but sadly nothing more is made of
this. Despite the long run-time, some sequences do seem
a little brief - the details of the Creature's learning of language for
example, are only hinted at, but for viewers who don't need
spoon-feeding details, these scenes should not prove a problem
(especially considering that most viewers will know at least some
detail of the Shelley story). The pacing is strong throughout, with
only one scene, Victor's return to Ingolstadt towards the end of the
film, that seems to be unnecessary, and drags the plot slightly. In
keeping with Shelley, the climax is understated, but the effective
characterisation up to that point, at least gives it the appropriate
Experienced director Kevin Connor shoots the film well and benefits from and obviously impressive budget. His largely
straight forward visual style contrasts massively with the over-blown
theatrics of Kenneth Branagh's better known Mary Shelley's Frankenstein
(1994), and he makes some good use of subtle imagery and beautifully
artistic still shots. The sets are plausible and effective,
particularly Victor's lab, which does
look like it could have been created by a single man - rather than the
elaborate and industrial scale sets of the Universal horrors and their
imitators. The use of real, Eastern European locations also gives the
film a massive boost, with scenes like Victor's encounter with his
creature at the ruined castle, that allow a much wider, and bleaker
perspective than studio sets ever could. Roger Bellon provides an
effective soundtrack that backs the film well.
Although not boasting an "all star cast", Frankenstein does
boast some very good acting all round. Luke Goss as the creature
managed to elicit sympathy while remaining plausibly scary to those who
encounter him, while Alec Newman makes for a convincing Victor -
obsessive and determined (although the script does not allow him to
fully explore the depths of depression that Victor suffers in the later
parts of the story), and the beautiful Nicole Lewis gives some depth to
Elizabeth, a role too often consigned to the scream-queen
performances. Respected American actors Donald Sutherland and William
Hurt have smaller, but key roles as Captain Walton and Professor
Waldman, taking advantage of the script to bring these often
disregarded characters into the forefront, while veteran French actor
Jean Rochefort plays the blindman well. Little known actor Mark Jax is
worthy of special mention, providing an impressive turn as Victor's
father, especially towards the film's dark finalé.
Aside from a few minor plot grevances, and a wish that the film could have had an hour or so extra on its run-time, Hallmark's Frankenstein
is the perfect Frankenstein film. Well acted, effectively budgeted,
impressively filmed and with a script that remains true to the Shelley
story while smoothing over her flaws, and remaining exciting
throughout, it seems that no future film could improve on this
adaptation. Highly recommended to Frankenstein fans and generally
recommended to all - a perfect example for the classroom or lecture
Anyone famous in it?
Donald Sutherland - Veteran American actor, best known to cult fans for Don't Look Now (1973) William Hurt - an American actor, known to cult fans as the star of sci-fi-noir Dark City (1998)
Not really, although some scenes are very atmospheric.
Lots of death, although minimal violence.
Some hints of sex, although no nudity.
Who is it for?
One for anyone interested in Frankenstein and generally recommended.
Original Aspect Ratio - 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. Colour The
print is good with strong colours, there is some noticable grain in a few scenes, although this is almost certainly deliberate.
English stereo, sounds fine.
Frankenstein' - a five minute promotion piece, including interviews
with most of the lead cast although not much depth.
Brief photo gallery.
Region 2 (UK, Europe) - PAL
Also available in the US, although with a full-screen transfer.
film appears to be uncut, although there might be alternate prints used in different markets. The print used is English
language and is presented as shown on television, in two parts with full opening and closing titles/credits.
Well written, directed and acted, Hallmark's Frankenstein stands as the best adaptation of the novel yet filmed. Recommended.
A strong looking DVD release, although with only some token bonus features.