Frankenstein (2004)

Hallmark's two-part made-for-television Frankenstein film ranks as a most faithful adaptation of the story. Contender UK R2 DVD.

The Film

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 power.

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 theatre.

In Brief

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)
Directed by anyone interesting? Kevin Connor - a British director who cut his teeth working on the Amicus fantasy adventures The Land That Time Forgot (1975) and Warlords of Atlantis (1978) and directed daft horror comedy Motel Hell (1980).
Is it scary?Not really, although some scenes are very atmospheric.
Any violence/gore? Lots of death, although minimal violence.
Any sex? Some hints of sex, although no nudity.
Who is it for?
One for anyone interested in Frankenstein and generally recommended.


Visuals 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.
Audio English stereo, sounds fine.
Subtitles None.
Extras The disc contains:
  • 'Creating Frankenstein' - a five minute promotion piece, including interviews with most of the lead cast although not much depth.
  • Television trailer.
  • Brief photo gallery.
Region Region 2 (UK, Europe) - PAL
Other regions? Also available in the US, although with a full-screen transfer.
Cuts? The 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.



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All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 28th January 2007.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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