Mary Shelley's Frankenstein Reviews
People who have never read the book can delight in the storytelling and lush direction, while those of us with an attachment to the book can celebrate the Miltonic, Promethian, and Tamboran touches that made it in to the script (at last).
With excellent actors in all the roles, the retention of the Arctic exploration frame narrative, and obvious love for Shelley's creation, this is truly a beautiful movie that I will never tire of watching.
Branagh's adaptation spends relatively little sympathy on the Creature and almost excessively on the true monster of this tale, Frankenstein himself, who is overly romanticized, at times annoyingly. Typical of Branagh, who's a bit obsessed with seeing himself portrayed in this over-the-top, melodramatic, epic movie staginess.
The film takes on more the appearance of an adventure film, less a horror with it's sweeping, circling camera moves and Patrick Doyle's brassy chivalrous epic score.
It fails to capture the spirit of the book with it's rapid edits and inability to settle into frame of mind, which is the essence of Shelley's writing that makes it all the more horrifying. Images fly across the screen to shoot plot points out like a semi-automatic, but we're unable to linger in these places, experience the sensations, know the torture.
I was delighted at first to see Creature would spend some time at De Lacey's cabin, but it turns out to be the only sympathy we get, besides what happens outside of Ingolstadt. From here, Creature makes a campy transition as the cabin burns, swearing vengeance upon his creator, thus becoming the film's villain.
One too many liberties are taken to call this 'Mary Shelley's' Frankenstein. Though I enjoy some of these changes, as they pertain to my own thinking. I too thought Justine was well suited to be Creature's choice of bride, a missed opportunity in the novel that Branagh and company seize. Just as well, his cause to reanimate Elizabeth is sensible for a man like him, and the tragedy it results in is obvious, though absurdly filmed.
I feel like the film is confused between whether or not it wants to completely honor Shelley's work or merely be inspired by it, which the latter it ultimately was. But it didn't commit to that, which I feel contributed to the suffering of it's pacing and troubled, unsettled screenplay. Universal took bolder steps establishing their own cinematic universe for the character and a screenplay befit for film audiences. James Whale's direction was clear and concise, committed to his own vision and the telling of that script, less the novel. As a result, the film honors the book in ways perhaps not directly focused. We spend peaceful moments with the Creature, and his sympathy is tremendous. Frankenstein is truly heinous, and there's no attempt to cover that up. Branagh's feels confused and jarring, perhaps in an attempt to depict how confusing and maddening life might seem when you suddenly wake into it from the depths of darkness. Perhaps the intent is for us to see the world as Creature sees it, sweeping around frenetically - but if that was the intent, it failed with it's romantic adventurism. Some moments of peace, quiet, birds chirping, water flowing, and butterflies flapping surely would've helped.
Branagh took a nice piss on one of the greatest stories ever written. DeNiro brings a fascinating sympathetic performance to his monster that is so necessary, but otherwise Branagh takes his very un-cinematic approach to the film so as to keep us bored to death.
I don't really know what Kenneth Branagh was thinking with this one--the fact that his films are usually way above average, stylish and smart makes it all the more baffling as to how this cringe-worthy mess occurred! Literally every single aspect of this film is over the top. The overdone acting from all involved--including the PHYSICAL aspect of acting (only DeNiro can *possibly* be excluded from the OTT acting comment), the frantic camerawork and Patrick Doyle's over affected score all work wonderfully together to create a throbbing embarrassment of a film.
A note on the score by Patrick Doyle: oddly, Doyle's score to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is easily one of my all time favorite film scores. I have listened to it so many times between 1995 and today that I know each and every single note. It is in my constant rotation. Out of context it is FANTASTIC. However, in context of the film, the score simply amplifies everything that is wrong with this movie. Certainly an unexpected outcome. At any rate, I highly recommend listening to the soundtrack on its own as it is the one thing about the movie that truly is great--again, out of context.
Great bad movie to watch with friends who also appreciate the fun that can be had when watching great bad movies. :)