A Review by Jason L. King
Starring: Robert DeNiro, Kenneth Branagh
Directed by: Kenneth Branagh
Rated: R for horrific images
Movie Released: 1994
The summer months have been whisked away and we are now heading into autumn with leaves turning colors and people’s doorsteps sporting jack-o-lanterns and skeletons. October is Halloween, month of the monsters, hence why many of the reviews you are seeing are horror films or monster movies. Throughout the month of October 2009, I will be focusing at least a solid portion of my reviews on various movie monsters each week. Week #4’s movie monster is Frankenstein’s Monster.
Anyone who has known me for a few years knows that I am sucker for a good Robert DeNiro film. So it should come as no surprise that if Robert DeNiro is in a movie about Frankenstein it would be in my list of films to watch on Frankenstein week on the site. I’ve seen DeNiro in the lowest points of his career playing an evil scientist (Godsend- if you don’t remember it, forget I mentioned it and move on). So only knowing that DeNiro is in the film, I popped it into the DVD player. Bear in mind, many times I don’t even read the back of films before I watch them, so I assumed DeNiro was going to be Dr. Frankenstein. I was a bit more surprised when DeNiro was actually Frankenstein’s Monster.
By now every one knows the basic plot of a Frankenstein. Made of body parts of killers and dead bodies, the monster is a creation of the Doctor Frankenstein, a man who sets out to create life out of something lifeless. However, he becomes horrified by his own creation and plans to destroy it until the monster escapes and begins to destroy things in it’s path.
The story of Frankenstein of course is based off of Mary Shelley’s classic novel, which I am quite ashamed to admit that I have not read. In fact, I have a copy that has long sat on my bookshelf, a gift from a teacher years ago that for whatever reason I have never brought myself to reading. I have been told that this film is the closest adaptation to the novel even though they do have some slight differences. The film spends a great deal of time and detail on keeping this the period piece that the novel was. Set in the late 1700’s we get a time period where if you were not wearing a powdered wig, you just were not popular. (Side note- How the times have changed, if you wore a powdered wig in public now, people would think you were a buffoon).
What I really enjoyed about this film was that the film gave us time to see that Frankenstein’s creation was not a monster incapable of good. We follow it as it teaches itself to speak and read, and as it tries to befriend an elderly blind man and his family. In this film, the creature is more of a scared, misunderstood soul than a evil being. Robert DeNiro, despite limited speech does a wonderful job as the creature and brings the character’s true creepiness and goodness to life.
I also enjoyed the newer “look” of the film. Despite being a period piece, the film had more of a modern horror feel to it. One of the ways that this is most evident is in the creation of Frankenstein’s monster. This monster is no flat topped, bolt necked, green thing wandering around in a suit. Instead it is a sewn together, stitched up hideous bald DeNiro- a truly grotesque looking beast.
Perhaps what I didn’t like about this film, is I felt it had a long, very slow drag to it. Once the film got started and the monster escaped it actually improves. The problem is getting to that point. I get the point that it takes time to create life by sewing things together. I also get it that when you are sewing together bodies in your basement as a way to pass the time, people may think you are trifle bit mad. Get on with the show I say!
Also along side of DeNiro, we have Kenneth Branagh working both as Doctor Frankenstein and the director of the film. Perhaps Branagh’s name is not exactly the most familiar of names but very well may be in the future. He is slated to begin production on Marvel’s Thor that is due in theaters in 2011. Branagh does a much better job behind the camera than he does on screen. I felt like something was missing from his role. Many times I kept feeling like the role was instead being played by Ewan McGregor, I’m not sure what it was that kept me thinking this, but I digress. Branagh played the role like a B rate stage actor, whom could have been easily replaced by another actor. Aparently I wanted it to be Ewan McGregor for some reason. Alongside Branagh is Helna Bonaham Carter, whom I thought might make it through the film without playing a creepo. So much for that. Sadly I’m not surprised.
When the film was all said and done I was torn. There were things I liked about it. However, there were just as many things that I didn’t like about the film. When it comes right down to enjoyment, I enjoy my Frankenstein to be the classic, bolt necked, flat topped, flower picking friend I’ve grown to love over the years. DeNiro almost saved this one for me, and actually does a great job but it’s not enough. I enjoy the misunderstood insight but I disliked the journey getting there.
I’m going to do my best to channel The Mike to end this review. Upon watching the Rob Zombie Halloween film, he growled at the screen and said, “It’s really not that bad of a horror film, it’s just not a Halloween film.” I felt this way with Frankenstein. Even if it is closer to the novel, it’s just not a “Frankenstein” film as you would think of it. Stick with the 1930’s Frankenstein as you are planning your monster mash.