Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 2 hours 3 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Horrific Images
Directed by: Kenneth Branagh
Written by: Steph Lady, Frank Darabont
(based on the novel FRANKENSTEIN by Mary Shelley)
Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Robert De Niro, Helena Bonham Carter, Tom Hulce, Ian Holm, John Cleese, Aidan Quinn, Richard Briers
Without a doubt one of the greatest and most influential horror stories of all-time, FRANKENSTEIN has been adapted in countless ways. Produced on 45 million by Francis Ford Coppola (who had directed DRACULA a mere two years before), this version of FRANKENSTEIN was considered by many to be overblown. It wasn’t nearly as financially or critically successful as DRACULA. However, as time has gone on, the film has been noted as one of the most faithful-to-the-novel versions of the story (the widely acclaimed 2004 miniseries went on to hold the number one title in that department). While some have said that it’s style over substance and is lacking in certain respects, I completely disagree. I have yet to see the 2004 miniseries, but this 1994 film is my favorite FRANKENSTEIN story thus far.
For those who are completely out of the loop, Victor Frankenstein is a wealthy young aristocratic genius. His mother tragically dies in childbirth and it’s an experience that deeply affects Victor. So he vows that nobody will ever have to die again (overpopulation be damned) and so it’s off to a prestigious college in Germany. Victor finds himself constantly bickering with his hoity-toity professors and their so-called scientific ways. He wants to create life, which as they say “is not only impossible, but immoral.” With the help of fellow scientist, Victor slowly learns the possibilities of life and gives this gift to a creation of his own…with disastrous results.
That’s about all you need to know about the plot, especially if you haven’t read the novel and don’t know how things play out. Rest assured, this is far different than the 1931 Boris Karloff classic. As great as that monster movie is, it’s essentially the dumbed down concept of the novel (much like the 1933 version of THE INVISIBLE MAN). FRANKENSTEIN is a far more complex story than just a creature feature. There’s philosophical questions that are raised. How far does science need to go before it’s considered morally wrong? What makes us human? These kind of concepts are covered in an intelligent way through a story of a scientist and his monstrous creation.
This is classical horror and the production designs make it seem epic in scale. Every shot is carefully chosen. The set design is fantastic. As for the actors themselves, Kenneth Branagh doubles as both director and Victor Frankenstein. He knows exactly how the character should be portrayed. While he begins as a heartless man doing despicable things for the sake of the science, he regains his humanity later on, but it’s far too late when the creature seeks a calculated revenge.
There have been many performers given the role of Frankenstein’s Monster. These range from Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee to Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch. Robert De Niro isn’t the first name one thinks of when Frankenstein’s monster is brought up. It cannot be denied that De Niro gives the creature a certain amount of pure emotion that was needed for the role. One moment is downright heartbreaking to watch and in others, his anger is fierce beyond compare.
Like all the film adaptations, certain liberties were taken with the material. This isn’t detrimental to the film at all though. Beautifully shot and well-told, FRANKENSTEIN deserves to be right up there with Bram Stoker’s DRACULA. It’s a pity that the trend of reviving classic horror tales ended here. Sure we have Universal’s silly new WOLFMAN (which stripped all the elements of character that the original had) and a rumored upcoming CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON remake, but I want to see H.G. Well’s THE INVISIBLE MAN and Robert Lewis Stevenson’s DR. JEKYLL & MR. HYDE. Horror has roots in the classical period of storytelling and when a film like FRANKENSTEIN comes out, it must be celebrated. This is a mature and adult telling of a story that was serious to begin with. I consider this version of FRANKENSTEIN to be essential viewing for horror fans!