Friday, August 18, 2006

Review: Hallmark's Frankenstein

Even though I didn't care much for their take on Blackbeard, I'm a huge fan of Frankenstein and wanted to see how Hallmark handled it. Pretty well, it turns out.

It's not flawless, but it is the most faithful adaptation of the book I've ever seen. I'm a huge fan of Kenneth Branagh and his movies but I'm still miffed at him for making something called Mary Shelley's Frankenstein that has the nerve to include a scene of Frankenstein's making a second creature out of Elizabeth's corpse. Hallmark's version was faithful enough that when it was on TV, it ran a disclaimer at the beginning saying that teachers could record it and use it in their classrooms.

Even the monster looked more or less the way Shelley describes him, and that's a big deal to me because my definitive look of the monster will always be the way Bernie Wrightson drew him based on Shelley's description. That was another big disappointment of Branagh's film: DeNiro's bald creature.

Hallmark's version of the monster isn't perfect though. He's actually not monstrous enough. Some more work on the make-up to make him look dead was needed and they should have distorted the actor's voice to make it deeper and more gravelly. As it was, he looked and sounded like a nice young man with a skin condition. He certainly didn't come across as the kind of person who would cause people to go mad with fear; running in terror or driving him from their homes with beatings and curses. It made the first half of the film hard to buy. Why was Dr. Frankenstein (played by the guy who played Paul Atreides in the SciFi Channel's version of Dune) so repulsed? Why did the blind man's father chase the monster away, even after an explanation that it was the monster who'd been chopping all the family's firewood for the last few days? You need a really nasty-looking monster to pull that off.

Once you get into the second half of the movie though, and the creature's relationship with the world is just part of the backstory, the cat-and-mouse game he plays with Frankenstein is exciting and compelling. Frankenstein, as in the novel, has proven himself to be such a jerk that you're actually rooting for the monster at this point. You hate what he does to Elizabeth, but you actually kind of understand his point of view. He's wrong and you wish he wouldn't do it, but you don't hate him a tenth as much as he hates himself. And you're just as frustrated as he is with Frankenstein who just. won't. give him. what he. wants! For God's sake, man, just make the other creature and let it be over!

Same feeling I got from the book.

I'm buying this one. I wish that the monster could've looked and sounded more horrifying, but other than that (and a bad German accent by William Hurt when everyone else is content to use their own), it's an excellent adaptation of the greatest monster story ever told.


Anonymous said...

ahh.. interesting.

as for me, I'm quite disappointed with Kenneth Branagh version, and this one might give me hopes for some "untainted" adaptation of the original book.

and this was released in 2004? tsk.

and yes, Bernie Wrightson's version of the monster is THE BEST there is.

definitely gonna scout for this.

Thanks Michael! :P

ClydeSight Productions said...

I agree with your review of this movie. It is one of the best versions out there.

Luke Goss's portrayal of the creature is well acted, but I felt his voice was much too high (they could have used digital distortion -- works for the Daleks)and the weeping scenes just didn't come off for me. I like Goss, and overall the performance was very well done. I agree with you, his makeup wasn't serious enough. He wasn't scary looking as the novel implies, but then the novel's description isn't scary either.

One review said this was "the prettiest Frankenstein ever."

I had no problem with Hurt and his German accent, though I agree, it made no sense at all. But it was so amusing, I accepted it.

The film took itself very seriously, which was nice, and the productions values were excellent.

The biggest mystery about Frankenstein to me is this. The creature has no social contact and is alone and miserable. Why then does he ask Frankenstein to make him a mate? Wouldn't he ask him, since he considers Frankenstein to be his father, ask him to take him in and give him a home?

Do orphans want a date, or real parents? Of course Frankenstein would have been a terrible parent, but he might have tried, and there are many ways he could have pulled off bringing the creature into his home (i.e. seriously deformed war veteran, victim of fire, etc.)

All food for thought.

Michael May said...

That's an interesting question about what the Monster wants. I guess I always figured that he didn't want Frankenstein as a parent because the doctor had already rejected him.

He looked for a surrogate parent (or friend at least) in the blind man, but that didn't work out either, so he's abandoned hope of getting along with humanity. I can see why he'd want someone else like himself.

Why it needed to be a bride instead of just a friend, I don't think Shelley addressed, but I guess if it was me, I'd rather have a girlfriend than a buddy too.

ClydeSight Productions said...

Thanks for your reply!

BTW, Frankenstein was never a Doctor. That one always gets me. He gets called a doctor in modern times because of the movies. I don't know how that one got started. In the Jame's Whale Karloff 1930's version, it is clear he is not a doctor. In the Hammmer series he's a Baron (although by the second film, he's become a doctor). In the novel, he's a University dropout. So where did the Doctor come from (please do not say Galifrey ;>).

I just watched this movie again after about a year. It certainly has play value! I watched the whole thing in one sitting. I still think it is one of the very best Frankenstein's ever done on film.

It has a way of getting under your skin, keeps you thinking for hours. Who do you like, who do you hate, who is the good guy, the bad guy?

Here's a thought. If you follow the book (and this film), the creature initially wanders off, so Frankenstein doesn't really abandon him-- he just doesn't go after him.

Although WE, the audience know what Frankenstein feels about his creature, for a long time, the creature has no clue. For all he knows (at first) Frankenstein could be combing the countryside looking for him. Shelly makes sure we don't think of it from this point of view, however. But when you put yourself in the creature's place, couldn't that be a possibility? Until he reads the journal, of course -- that sort of gives it all away!

But until then, there was a possibility for Shelly to have explored this kind of confusion. I wonder why she didn't do it? She explored so much else in the great novel.

And I also wonder something else. Why is this story, after SO many retellings, so dang compelling? Why does it capture the imagination like it does? It can't all be the 1930's movie. That was good and certainly unforgettable, but this story keeps getting re told over and over! There is something about it that must strike very deep in our subconscious.

Michael May said...

Ha! I've read the book a couple of times and seen I don't know how many film adaptations, but I've never questioned Frankenstein's title as Doctor. You're absolutely right of course. Shame on me. :)

Concerning his rejection of the Monster: when Frankenstein first sees the creature at his bedside, he jumps out of bed and escapes downstairs. Shelley doesn't spell it out, but I'm sure he wasn't all that calm when he did it. By the time he comes back the next day, the Monster's gone. He's a smart creature, so he knew that he wasn't wanted.

What's compelling about the story to me is the Monster's plight. It comes across differently in the Karloff versions, but it still comes across that he's just a lonely soul who's longing for human connection. He can't get it because of a reason that he has no control over, but if someone would just take the time to get to know him... That's something that resonates with a lot of people, I think.


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