Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Writers: Steph Lady, Frank Darabont
Notable Cast: Robert De Niro, Kenneth Branagh, Tom Hulce, Helena Bonham Carter, Aidan Quinn, Ian Holm, John Cleese
Plot: Based on Mary Shelley’s novel, ” .Frankenstein” tells the story of Victor Frankenstein, a promising young doctor who, devastated by the death of his mother during childbirth, becomes obsessed with bringing the dead back to life. His experiments lead to the creation of a monster, which Frankenstein has put together with the remains of corpses. It’s not long before Frankenstein regrets his actions. (Source: Robert McElwaine on imdb.com)
Note – the format I use below was one that I used in a prior 31 Days of Halloween blog-a-thon, and I found that I liked it and that it helped me concisely express my thoughts around a movie.
Commentary: I viewed this film on home rental VHS back in 1994, and my opinion of it then and now, with a recent rewatch has not changed. This film should work, it should have been great and glorious with its A-List cast and its stellar production values.
So why do I feel like Kenneth Branagh drained the life out of this incredible, immortal story?
Branagh wrote and acted Victor Frankenstein, and unfortunately, he didn’t serve the role. What is in essence and arrogant, insane, conflicted and tortured main character was transformed into an attempt at hunky leading man. I can’t fault the production and sets. And there was an incredible insane electric eel tank to power the creation of the monster. But overall it just fell so flat, so very Merchant Ivory.
Branagh’s attempt at being a sex symbol leading man included goth legend Helena Bonham Carter, here in her prime, as his opposite. They have a lavish, flowery love story including a laughable sex scene. I’ve written before about my problems with the Elizabeth Lavenza character, and Carter, whose commanding, dark presence and big gothic eyes and sharp voice just could never carry an insipid, besotted weak heroine, created a jarring contrast. Her character arc included a brief scene of her transformation into a Bride of Frankenstein creature, and there I felt she shone.
Tom Hulce was here as Henry Clerval, a character I felt was pivotal to all kinds of kooky unintended readings of the novel Frankenstein. So what was he here? A bromance partner for Branagh’s Victor, some sort of lush-y petticoat chasing bon-vivant. Should have worked. Didn’t,
The one performance you cannot fault was DeNiro’s Monster. He was frightening, commanding, erudite, cunning and acted like the stalking, agile quasi-ninja I’ve been clamoring for. A shame that it didn’t save the reputation of this movie.
What We’re Afraid Of: On a fundamental level, Frankenstein is all about your dark secrets and mistakes and shame that you can’t run from. And I guess that was all in this movie, although that just couldn’t shine through the barf-inducing Merchant Ivory gloss.
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