Kenneth Branagh acts and directs alongside Robert de Niro and Tom Hulce in this overblown Frankenstein film. Columbia UK R2 DVD.
At the end
of the 17th Century, an Arctic exploration ship encounters a man
walking on the remote ice flows. Announcing himself as Victor
Frankenstein (Kenneth Branagh) he tells his story... born in Geneva he
had studied science from a young age, mostly focusing on the writings
of ancient and medieval philosophers. Eventually he elects to leave
home for the University at Ingolstadt. Conflicting immediately with the
views of the "modern" Professor Krempe, he discovers that his colleague
Waldman (John Cleese) is interested in discussing the ancient
sciences that Victor himself believes hold the key to saving lives.
After Waldman is murdered, Victor takes his journal and discovers his
work on re-animation, electing to continue these long abandoned
experiments by himself. Taking bodies from graves, he assembles a
creature (Robert de Niro) and despite attempts by his friends Elizabeth
(Helena Bonham Carter) and Henry Cerval (Tom Hulce) to get him to
return home, he dismisses them and using a tank of electric eels for
power, brings the creature to life - however when it appears to get
killed in an accident, Victor leaves the room and collapses into a
fever, but the creature is still alive and escapes from the town...
after being attacked by townspeople, he finds a hiding place in a small
cottage owned by a local family - watching them, he learns to write and
talk, but after a mix-up he is attacked by the family, and feeling
rejected by all humanity, he vows revenge on Frankenstein. Meanwhile,
nursed back to health by Elizabeth and Henry, Victor returns home, but
when he arrives, he learns that his young brother William has been
murdered. The maid Justine is arrested, and and angry mob of
townspeople lynch her, but Victor later meets his creation again who
tells him that he was behind the murder. Victor refuses his request to
make him a mate, and the creature swears to be with Victor on his
Produced by Francis Ford Coppola's American Zeotrope, as a follow-up to his own Bram Stoker's Dracula
(1992), the Kenneth Branagh film takes a similar approach to its source
novel. Although relatively faithful, as can be seen by the synopsis
above, it does make numerous changes to the Shelley text, a few of them
positive, but largely negative, ultimately missing the point entirely
of many key themes in the book. Obviously, in order to keep the film
down to a 2 hour run-time, a lot of the story has to be compressed, and
the often rather lengthy discussion of Victor's childhood is
considerably cut down here, while such lengthy asides as the Arabian
adventures of the De Lacey family, and Victor's trip to Scotland are
completely ignored, to the benefit of the film. The notion of Professor
Waldman actually having previously experiemented, and seemingly
succeeded, in the field of re-animation, is not taken from the novel,
but was first used in the television movie Frankenstein: The True Story
(1973), and fits the story well - explaining partly how Victor is
able to discover the secret of life that has eluded man for so long,
seemingly by himself, the details he gives of the method behind the
creation is similarly well written. Fans of the book will also notice a
smaller changes, the origins of Henry Cerval are changed, as is the
notion of Elizabeth herself coming to Ingolstadt, while Captain
Walton, commander of the ice-bound exploration at the story's
start and end, is now looking to travel to the North Pole, rather than
to find a passage to the Far East (surely a more useful exploration).
many of these changes are likely only to bother hardened fans of
Shelley's novel, the script alterations do not stop there, and the
writers saw fit to change more important elements, and whether by accident or design, succeed
in altering some of the book's most important moments. After Shelley's
Victor finally suceeds in bringing life to his creation, the shock of
what he has done leads him into fits of panic and he runs out onto the
streets for several hours until, eventually returning and discovering
his creation gone, he falls into a fever that lasts 5 months. In the
script here, Victor brings his creation to life, but while struggling,
appears to kill it - thus he leaves the room, thinking that his
experiment has failed. Victor's descent into madness therefore, is less
well explained, and the source of the creature's lonely wandering is
not the theme of parental neglect that Shelley had in mind, but the
result of a simple mistake by Victor. The background of the creature
itself is similarly damaged by a key alteration - both script and book
have the creature hide in a cottage's barn and learn to speak and read
from its inhabitants, but while the book sees the creature attempt to
talk to the kindly blind grandfather, before being attacked by his son
who sees the creation only as a monster, the son attacks the creation
in the film script due to a confusion that would have lead him to
attack any man who was in the house, regardless of appearance. It is
this anger at Victor, for making him of repulsive looks, and abadoning
him into the world, that leads the creature to seek revenge on him,
therefore in the film, this reasoning behind his revenge is
considerably flawed, making him into far more of a "monster" than
Shelley envisaged at this point in the story.
for dramatic effect, the miserable fate of Justine, convicted in
Shelley's novel of a crime she did not committ, and duly executed, is
worsened here, where she is sprung from her jail cell by an angry mob
of townspeople and lynched. Unfortunately, for the sake of this action
sequence, another of the book's key moments is lost. Victor is aware
that his creation killed William and feels guilty throughout the
court trial since he is unable (or unwilling) to speak out in her
defence, eventually blaming himself for her death. With this public
lynching, Victor had no chance to save her even if he had spoken out,
again serving to diminish the factors behind his descent into madness,
and ultimately making him far more heroic and "strong" than the almost
helpless Victor who emerges in the latter part of Shelley's novel. By
the film's end, the script takes complete leave of the book and
seemingly inspired by Roger Corman's unimpressive Frankenstein Unbound
(1990) sees Victor use the murdered Elizabeth as his second project,
leading to a battle of wills between Victor and his original creation,
over her affection. A good idea, that was rushed over in the Roger
Corman film, it is sadly similarly served here - while most of the film
is quickly paced, the entire sequence after her death rushes by,
with Victor seemingly able to whip up a creation in a matter of hours. The
writers obviously decided that a more exciting climax would be needed
after the story ends and we return to the Arctic setting - so we are
treated to an unnecessary ice-flow break-up that destroys the grim
atmosphere of the finalé. Ignoring the original novel for now, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein
is still a flawed film with a poorly completed script. Jumps in logic
abound (as mentioned above, the creature's muderous intent is poorly
plotted) and the rapid pacing means that the fate of Victor's
father is left confusingly ambiguous, the reason for the cottage
dwellers to flee is never explained, and Henry simply disappears from
the film towards the end. The "love triangle" between Elizabeth,
Justine and Victor (an invention of this film) is similarly
underdeveloped, and generally seems to be no more than a tagged on love
story for the female audiences.
Kenneth Branagh's direction can simply be summed up as over-the-top,
packed full of sweeping and rotating camera angles for no real purpose
and even some random slow motion shots. The large budget means that the
sets look good, populated by an ample number of extras, although
Victor's lab is absurdly elaborate, looking more like the inside
of a massive industrial complex than a man's lodgings, how he was
able to construct it all is not explained - for comparison, see the far
more realistic laboratory of Hammer's Curse of Frankenstein (1957). The soundtrack is a suitably over-blown orchestral score, in keeping with the tone of film and used effectively.
does not just stretch to the directing, and much of the acting is
excessive to the point of parody (almost all of the cast get to scream
NOOOOO! at some point). Director Kenneth Branagh obviously cast himself
in the lead role (although he is rather stretching the portrayal of the
21 year old Victor) and spends much of the film walking around with his
shirt off. Robert de Niro is curious casting as the creature, probably
the only time it speaks with an Italian-American accent in cinema
history. Well made up, he does a good job of imitating someone learning
how to speak, and comes off as suitably threatening thanks to his
effective screen presence, and in a clever casting turn, he also plays
the executed criminal who's body Victor uses as the basis for his
creation. Tom Hulce and Helena Bonham Carter are good as Henry and
Elizabeth but don't get much to do. British actors Ian Holm, Richard
Briers and John Cleese give good turns in extended cameos, while the
rest of the cast give decent performances.
Although ludicrously overblown, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein
suffers more from its break-neck pacing and a number of completely
unnecessary changes to the original story that leave it full of plot
holes and nonsensical. Although enjoyable, it can not be ranked as a
good film, and comes only partly recommended. Not recommended for
anyone looking for a faithful adaptation of the book.
Anyone famous in it?
Robert de Niro - ranked as one of the best actors ever, he is best known as star of Godfather II (1974) Tom Hulce - Usually a stage actor, he will always be associated with the lead role in Amadeus (1984)
Directed by anyone interesting?
Branagh - as an actor, best known now for his appearance in the Harry
Potter films, as a director is better known for his Shakespeare
Is it scary?
Not really, some jump shock.
Several graphically gory shots.
Some hints, no obvious nudity (although Robert de Niro is naked during the "creation" sequence)
Who is it for?
to Frankenstein fans, although largely removed from the novel in
several key areas, it should prove of interest to Kenneth Branagh fans.
Original Aspect Ratio - 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Colour The
print is good with strong colours, and only mild grain, although there is some noticable artifacting in darker scenes.
English stereo and 5.1 tracks - both sound strong.
disc contains - Original Theatrical trailer only.
Region 2 (UK, Europe) - PAL
Available on a similar release in Europe and in the USA (be warned, most US discs currently available are full-screen only).
film is presented in its R rated cut (some sequences were removed
before original release to secure an American R rating, these have
never been re-inserted into the film). The print used is English
A poorly realised script is the main downfall of the rather over-the-top production. Partly recommended.
decent looking DVD release but could really use a special edition with some interviews and commentaries.