Frankenstein is one of the great horror stories of all time. It’s one of the few which have transcended its genre and is considered to be a work of high literature. It touches on some of the most basic concerns of humanity: life and death, science and morality.
The questions it raises about our ambition, our hubris, and our ethics in regards to scientific achievement are even more pertinent than when Mary Shelley wrote it in the nineteenth century. Not surprisingly the story has been adapted into countless movies, comic books, short stories, novels, and stage plays. It’s a timeless story able to be retold through succeeding generations and while some have been good (and quite a few bad), none have been quite as disappointing as Kenneth Branagh’s version.
Bold, visually arresting, but utterly devoid of any kind of emotional weight, Branagh’s movie is as ambitious as it is bad. Scenes jump from one to the next without any sense of transition or narrative flow; Branagh struts about, devouring the scene like a starving man would a bran muffin and Robert De Niro (typically a great actor) comes across as bland in the role of the monster.
This movie is melodrama city. Branagh seems to want to inject every scene with as much pathos as possible—especially his scenes—and the overall effect is drama overload, which takes away from the movie as a whole. As I watched the movie I couldn’t help but compare it to James Whale’s Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein starring Boris Karloff, and all of the pity and terror the monster inspired is severely muted, mainly because by the time the monster arrives we’ve already been accosted by numerous scenes of Branagh mourning over his dead mother and his dead professor. By the time De Niro bursts from his copper coffin, slick with KY jelly, the movie has become so over-the-top that the movie becomes an unintentional parody.
In general there’s a weird emotional disconnect with this movie. I couldn’t connect with any character, and I only felt marginally sympathetic towards the monster. It’s odd that a movie with so many quality actors—De Niro, Branagh, Helena Bonham Carter, and Tom Hulce to name a few— should leave me so cold; but it does. There’s only one moment that broke through the banality and affected me: when Victor reanimates Elizabeth. The scenes afterward where he tries to make her remember who he is and who she is are truly terrifying and make my skin crawl. If the movie had been able to capture more moments like that it could have been great.
The movie is presented in 1080p high definition in 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The audio is fine, but the video is oddly flat. It doesn’t look nearly as sharply defined as other Blu-rays I’ve seen. In fact, I forgot I was watching a Blu-ray. Considering this is such a visually rich movie it’s difficult to understand why this movie doesn’t look better.
The only extra on this Blu-ray is that it is BD Live enabled. Viewers can record and upload their own commentary track for the movie. In terms of extras, this is pretty weak, especially for people like myself who have no interest in recording a commentary track or listening to one not undertaken by the people involved.
There are much better Frankenstein movies out there, and given the lackluster video quality and lack of extras on this release there is no reason to buy this Blu-ray. Not recommended.
Sony Pictures presents Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Directed by: Kenneth Branagh. Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Tom Hulce, Helena Bonham Carter, Aidan Quinn, Ian Holm, and John Cleese. Written by: Steph Lady and Frank Darabont. Running time: 123 minutes. Rating: R. Released on DVD: October 6, 2009. Available at Amazon.com
Tags: frankenstein, Helena Bonham Carter, John Cleese, Kenneth Branagh, Robert DeNiro