Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

08/15/2019 06:25

Film: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

Year: 1994

Director: Kenneth Branagh

Writer: Steph Lady and Frank Darabont

Starring: Robert De Niro, Kenneth Branagh and Helena Bonham Carter



I remember when this film came out. It was on the heels of Bram Stoker’s Dracula that was directed by Francis Ford Coppola. This was also produced by him as they tried to go grander in the retelling of these classic stories. I know I saw this film when it first came out, but didn’t remember a lot of it in my rewatch right after college. It had been almost close to a decade before checking it out here. My synopsis is when the brilliant, but unorthodox scientist Dr. Victor Frankenstein (Kenneth Branagh) rejects the artificial man that he’s created escapes and later swears revenge.

For this film, we start in the North Pole on a ship that is looking for a passage there. The year is 1794 and the man runs into issues when he’s caught in a storm that strands his ship on the ice. The captain is Robert Walton (Aidan Quinn), who wants to push on, but they have to wait for the ice to break. There is then weird yelling heard in the distance. Capt. Walton and his men then encounter Victor. He’s taken aboard and telling them they need to flee, that there is a phantom that will kill them. Robert is determined and asks Victor to tell him his story.

This goes back to when Victor was a boy. He’s living with his mother, Cherie Lunghi, and father, Ian Holm. A young girl, whose mother passed away and named Elizabeth, is going to live with them. Victor’s mother is pregnant and dies in childbirth. This happens though when Victor is an adult and Elizabeth has grown into Helena Bonham Carter. The family is distraught, but Victor makes it his life journey to conquer death.

Victor expresses his love to Elizabeth before heading to Ingolstadt to study medicine. He befriends Henry (Tom Hulce) and makes an enemy of a professor, Krempe (Robert Hardy). He secretly befriends another one, Waldman (John Cleese), who is working on an experiment to overcome death. When Waldman dies in an accident with a sharp featured man, Robert De Niro, Victor steals his notes and starts to conduct the experiments.

He shuns those around him, including Elizabeth. She travels to Ingolstadt to see him, just as a breakout of cholera hits, quarantining the city. Victor throws himself into his experiments and goes about finishing what Waldman started. He is able to bring life to his creature, which is played by De Niro as well. Victor has a change of heart and tries to kill his creature. It flees before he can though.

The two end up living two completely different lives. Victor goes back home to marry Elizabeth. The Creature becomes the ‘spirit of the forest’, living in a barn of a family. He does things to help and actually ‘remembers’ how to read. When this living situation is ruined, he decides it is time to face his creator with an ultimatum. He wants a mate so he can experience life and not be alone. This requires Victor to break his word and go back to his research.

Now something I have to commend this version is that they stayed pretty faithful to the novel in that they played out most of the major parts that I can remember. I do really like that aspect of it. It’s been some time since reading that novel, but I’m glad this version kept together what the original Universal split into two different films. They did include here some new things as well.

For one, I don’t mind giving Victor a reason to try to conquer death. He was very close to his mother and that really affects him when she passes. On top of this, there’s something that happens on his wedding night that he again foolishly decides that he needs to go back to his experiments. I actually would say that Victor is the villain in this film. He tries to play God, creates life and then decides that he doesn’t want it to live. Elizabeth and his professors try to talk him out of it, but he persists.

Next I want to talk about the Creature. He’s such a tragic character to me. He didn’t ask to be born. He is shunned by the townspeople and called a monster at every turn. It is actually a look at how bad society is, as they aren’t giving him a chance due to his looks. He really just wants to have someone to love him and can’t find that. I don’t blame him for the change and trying to ruin the life of Victor, as he tries to get everything when this creation has nothing. I also like the idea that there could be residual memories in the parts which allows it to learn to play the recorder and read so quickly, especially with the brain that is used to revive it. It actually explains a lot for something I don’t recall being in the novel and adds something to this film. Plus for a long film, having those aspects prevents it from lingering on things.

There are some issues I had with the film. I did not care for the concept that electric eels are used to bring things back. This is a good idea; I don’t mind that, my problem is the giant balloon thing that they’re kept in during the experiment. It is more logical way of doing it to ensure the body is getting the electricity that is needs. Another issue I had was we saw all the preparation that was needed the first time. For the second go around, he just magically has it all on hand during his wedding night. I get that it would bog down the film, but I don’t really like that it is just too convenient.

To move to the pacing next, this film actually for its 2 hour running time, really doesn’t drag at all for me. We move through the different plot-points of Victor learning and then applying what he has. My favorite part though is showing the duality of the Creature and Victor as they’re living separate lives. I think by showing it that way, it is way more impactful to what the Creature decides to do, by humanizing him. I do like the ending as it is pretty much in line with the novel and fitting for humans to face their own morality.

The acting of the film I think is pretty amazing. De Niro I think is great as the Creature. He’s an actor that I feel later in his career is given a bad rap and we forgot how good he can be. His portrayal here is menacing, but with a touch of tragedy at the existence he is forced to live. There’s a lot without talking and he is quite profound as he remembers to read. Branagh is good as Victor. I believe his thirst for knowledge and his level of obsession with his studies. Hulce is solid in his supporting role. I really liked Carter as well as Victor’s love interest. She really does ground and somewhat humanize this kind of jerk of a doctor. I thought the rest of the cast did round out the film for what was needed as well, with shout outs to Holm, Cleese and Hardy.

As for the effects of the film, I think they’re really good as well. I love the look of the Creature. It is way more realistic that what we got in some of the classics. They also make it look ugly in a much different way. There is another creature later in the film as well that I liked. I’m not entirely sure why multiple parts were used for her, but I won’t hold it against the film too much. I don’t mind the computer generated effects, as that really doesn’t affect the film too much. I do think the effects are solid and it is shot very well.

Now with that said, I think this is a really good adaptation to the classic tale from Mary Shelley. I like some of the additions to it and keeping most of the events together here. There are some minor plot-holes I have issues with. I think that despite its longer run time, it still moves at a good pace and I never got bored. The acting really creates the duality of two characters, one with it all and one with nothing. It really becomes a tragedy through this. The effects of the Creature are really good and the rest are solid as well. The soundtrack really doesn’t stand out aside from an old man playing a recorder and then the Creature doing it later. There is some classic music playing at a party, which does fit for the realism. Overall I’d say this is a good film and one of the better adaptations out there. It does stick with the motif of the period piece for sure. This one despite being darker than the Universal version, I still would recommend to all audiences. It’s a classic gothic horror tale with some interesting themes.


My Rating: 8 out of 10