IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 92 min
REVIEWED BY: DR Lenera, Official HCF Critic
In 1795, Dr Victor Frankenstein creates a monster and then rejects it. In a fit of rage, the creature kills Frankenstein’s wife Elizabeth, and Victor chases it to the Arctic to get revenge, but succumbs to the weather. The being buries its creator and is then attacked by demons before being rescued by two gargoyles who bring it before the gargoyle queen, Lenore. She explains that they were created by the Archangel Michael to battle demons on Earth, and names the creature Adam, inviting him to join them, but he declines and departs after being given gargoyle weapons that allow him to destroy demons. Throughout the centuries, Adam fends off the demons that pursue him until the present day, where he encounters the gargoyles again….
So here we have, coming almost right after 47 Ronin and fairly soon after The Lone Ranger, another film that was being spoken of as a stinker before its release, is now getting poor reviews, and is also being largely avoided by the film-going public [though I wouldn’t used the latter as a judge, considering some of the dreadful stuff that has become big hits of late]. It seems to me that far too many folk make up their film that a film is going to be crap before they’ve seen more than a trailer of it. 47 Ronin and The Lone Ranger were considerably better than general opinion seemed to tell you [though there does seem to be an increasing school of thought saying that The Lone Ranger is actually really good and I don’t agree with that either]. I, Frankenstein seems to be disliked even more than the other two films I’ve mentioned. They weren’t universally hated, but this one seems to be. I still went into the cinema thinking it might actually be quite good – I mean couldn’t understand the generally poor reception given to Van Helsing, which may have gone ludicrously over the top towards the end but for my money succeeded quite well with putting Universal’s classic monsters into a period Indiana Jones-type action adventure. And, much like with Dracula, the Mummy and the others, I almost always get a kick out of seeing one of those monsters on the screen, though the horrible recent Dracula TV series, which I gave up on after three episodes, should have alerted me to the fact that this latest Frankenstein movie might not be very good at all.
Of course I already knew by then that this wasn’t a horror movie or have much to do with Mary Shelley. It’s another Underworld/ Constantine/ Van Helsing/ Legion-type movie, and with I, Frankenstein, the producers seem to be especially trying to recapture the commercial success of their Underworld franchise, a series which to me fell short of its main premise and only occasionally delivered what it promised. I, Frankenstein succeeds in one area where the Underworld films, or at least the first two, failed – abundance of action. In a movie where demons are at war with gargoyles, you want to see lots of scenes of demons battling gargoyles. These fights are quite well shot and directed, something which is a rarity at the moment. The trend at the moment is to shake the camera about wildly and edit the life out of action, as in most of the horrible final half hour of Jack Ryan. Director Stuart Beattie and cinematographer Ross Emery deserve credit for not doing this. Though I could have done with more and longer static shots, the oft-used technique of the camera swooping around and above the action works well, and for once the 3D buildings and people don’t look too much like cardboard cut-outs. I was annoyed I had to see this in 3D, due to the insidious [it makes more money] method of limiting showings of films in the format they should be, and as usual it doesn’t add anything, but I didn’t regret it either.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much of an attempt to ring any changes on all this action. Everyone just runs and jumps at each other, every fight is the same, none of them are allowed to run a decent length to make some impact [this is especially disappointing towards the end], and it all gets a bit tiresome. Generally I, Frankenstein really is quite poor. These days, I’m willing to praise any film where we can actually see what is going on in an action scene and which doesn’t seem like it was shot by an epileptic, but there really isn’t much else to recommend about this one. It’s not quite as bad as some are saying, but is still pretty painful for fans of the title character [well, his monster really, and at least the film gets that right!] who have to watch a man with a few facial scars rushing around fighting and hardly getting any time to either be frightening or inspire pathos, the two main qualities that any filmic Frankenstein Monster should possess. Aaron Eckhart just isn’t given any opportunities to do the role justice, though there are times he looks distinctly bored. So does Bill Nighy as the main villain, though he’s such a good actor that he can’t help but get into his part a bit and try to have at least a bit of fun.
The film opens with a two minute flashback sequence, kind of like the original story reduced to its very basics, and though it’s too quick, some of it is well handled, especially when the Monster is born and looks at his hand. There is actually a real feeling of horror here, but that soon goes, and even in the first scene we have to suffer a shoddy score by two genius composers called Reinhold Heil and Johnny Klimek who, as many others seem to do these days, copy the Hans Zimmer Batman score style to a tee because thick and tone-deaf producers and directors think it’s cool. There’s the same rhythmic patterns, the same synthesisers and orchestral samples, the same lack of actual melodies, the same bloody taiko drums [in fact you hear the bloody things constantly in this movie], you know what I mean. The score hardly ever attempts to elevate the movie and stays at one level throughout. Then again, the film stays at one level too. The idea of the immortal, indestructible Frankenstein’s Monster alive in our times is actually one with some potential and I’m surprised it hasn’t been used before. The idea is wasted here though, the Monster spending nearly all his time either chained up or fighting demons and gargoyles.
Said demons and gargoyles do look quite good in their monstrous form – I think gargoyles make great and interesting monsters and are not used nearly often enough – though the interminable CGI shots of them flying around and exploding don’t look very convincing. The CGI sets are decent – there’s a great pullback to reveal the enormous cathedral that the gargoyles reside inside – but it’s hard to believe that humanity is in danger when the streets are strangely devoid of people. They obviously thought that the gargoyle/ demon/ Frankenstein’s Monster action would be enough so that people wouldn’t notice. I, Frankenstein was originally set be released on February 22, 2013. The film was pushed back to September 13, 2013, only to be shuffled once again to January 24, 2014. Though I haven’t read anything to this effect, it seems like the film has been heavily cut down and scenes shuffled around, but to a detrimental effect. Too much happens off-screen or rushes by too quickly and some scenes really seem like they have been inserted in the wrong place, though you could probably put them anywhere else and it wouldn’t improve things much. On at least one occasion it looked like one scene had been badly split in two. It seems like they didn’t know what to do with this movie. I personally would have gone for a more bloody, violent approach for a start: that didn’t seem to harm the Underworld series commercially for a start, and I yearn for when a filmmaker will have the guts [sorry] to have a Frankenstein Monster ripping off limbs and such as in Paul Morrisey’s notorious 1973 film. Then again, I’m the bloodthirsty kind of sould who also dreams that the Kenneth Branagh version will one day be released in its gory original cut.
I wasn’t sure I would be able to write a full-length review for I, Frankenstein and I know I haven’t entirely succeeded in not going off on tangents, because basically there isn’t that much to say about it, and it doesn’t contain much of interest. It isn’t that bad, and passes the time more pleasantly than Jack Ryan, not to mention several pictures that came out last year. It’s just your archetypal, generic comic-book adaptation that both dumbs and tones everything down, sucking out most, if not quite all, life, originality and even soul. I liked certain things like the Monster being called Adam, a reference to the book where the Monster is obsessed with Milton’s Paradise Lost, but nice things like this are few and far between. Call me a crude male, but the main thing that’s stuck in my mind at this very moment from I, Frankenstein is the gorgeous Miranda Otto looking fabulous in a striking blue outfit [though also sadly struggling with some of the worst expository dialogue in years]. Call it clutching at straws if you like. At least there won’t be a sequel, despite the toe-curling final scene, which sets up the Frankenstein Monster as some kind of vigilante super hero.