Frankenstein (also referred to as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein) is a horror film directed by Kenneth Branagh in 1994 and adopted from a book by Mary Shelly bearing a similar title. In the movie, a young doctor named Victor Frankenstein (Kenneth Branagh) departs from his native land of Geneva to be admitted at a medical school (IMDB, para. 2).
At the college, he studies and becomes knowledgeable in human anatomy and in chemistry. The young student has always been fascinated with death and this leads him to initiate a project to create life. Victor designs a creature with the body parts of convicts and with the brain of a bright scientist. The ‘monster’ (Robert de Niro) comes to life and is thrown into the society.
The monster then grasps that the society will never accept him and seeks revenge on all persons that Victor loves. As the movie comes to an end, Victor is all by himself as all his family members have been killed. Victor then creates a partner for the creature to love, however, due to the pain he is feeling, he opts to use Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) and resurrects her for his own benefit. Eventually, Elizabeth kills herself because Victor and the monster are fighting over her.
As the film comes to an end, Victor dies on a ship while the monster he created is found crying over his dead body. Victor’s funeral ceremony is interrupted when the ice surrounding the ship starts to crack. The creature takes a burning torch and sets himself and his dead creator alight.
Despite having a fine start, Frankenstein fails to quite come off and does not make a good film for a variety of reasons. First is the films’ duration, at slightly more than two hours, the movie feels a little extended. It is wordy and the speed drops in some scenes. Part of the problem stems from the film’s familiarity. Preparations for Frankenstein’s journey to Vienna, his encounter with Clerval, his disobedience to the medical staff at the school, and his initial experimentations have all been undertaken before.
The audience knows where Victor is headed to and Branagh offers no compelling spins to the storyline. This familiarity stems from the fact that a number of editions of the movie have been produced before. However, the film becomes more interesting in the second half. Here, Branagh uses elements from the book that have not been included in previous versions of the movie.
For instance, the Arctic scenery, the subtle fact that the creature can converse in human voice and is smart and able to experience pain, the series of events related to William’s death and the creature’s set-up of Justine are all exclusive to the movie, making for an interesting watch. However, for someone who has not watched previous versions of the movie nor read Shelley’s book, the movie makes for an interesting watch in whole.
Another bad aspect of the movie is the rapid succession of scenes, considering that the film runs for more than two hours. Just fifteen minutes into the movie, 3 years have already elapsed. An audience may find it hard to keep up with the story, and might lose concentration midway to the end. Again, the author needs to recognize that tragedy in film is most effective when it is allowed to develop slowly.
The scenes in Branagh’s version of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein move so fast that a number of subtleties disappear along the way. This gives the movie an exciting and occasionally chaotic (particularly in the first half- hour) piece of work that, while irrefutably entertaining, is short of the depth that a work of this magnitude requires.
However, the movie can be praised on a number of aspects, especially that of the gorgeous scenery, superior acting of some characters, especially Elizabeth and Robert de Niro, and creativity. From one scene to another, the producer does nice finishing touches and fascinating variations that are easily noticeable.
It is exciting, for instance, to watch Frankenstein play Ben Franklin and hold hands with his family members while lying down! And in another scene, when Dr. Frankenstein pays a midwife to collect amniotic fluid and fill what resembles a cylinder, our interest is held as much as possible.
There are also some quality and associative scenes such as when the doctor slips into the court to cut down a man who was hanged with the intention of using him as a ‘raw material.’ As Frankenstein cuts the rope and the lifeless body falls to the ground, there is a swift cut to a table in the inn where a wine bottle is banged on to the table. A clever finishing touches that make a huge difference.
The producer also does some quality work in actor selection. Although Branagh’s performance as Dr Frankenstein is nothing to write home about, De Niro and Elizabeth do an amazing job to make for inadequacies elsewhere (Ebert,, 2). The scene where the creature becomes friends with a family and supplies them with food while watching and learning through a crack on the wall, is fabulously moving, and is probably the best scene in the movie.
Although his role was the most challenging, De Niro acts it out with finesse and melodrama and significantly improves the rating of the film. Similarly, Helena gives a thoroughly captivating performance. She becomes much more than Frankenstein’s secret lover and also plays an important role in exposing the bad and good sides of Frankenstein and the creature.
Camera techniques are important to the development of scenes, and Branagh does not fail at this. Often, the camera swerves to Victor’s laboratory, where he is seen to be very upset as he faces a choice between devoting all his time to science and marrying his adopted sister, Elizabeth. The camera is also valuable in showing the audience a panoramic view of Geneva and the Swiss Alps. And as the creature lays on the snow, the camera reveals the rage, anger and bitterness in its eyes. He will have revenge for his creation by Victor.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is a very intriguing movie to watch. While the film has its weaknesses, it also has a number of strengths that results in a fascinating watch. Aspects that make Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein a bad film include wordiness and speed drops in some scenes, audience familiarity with the storyline, and rapid succession of scenes. However, Branagh makes up for these insufficiencies by using gorgeous sceneries, excellent acting skills by a number of actors, and use of camera techniques to develop scenes.
Ebert, Roger. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The Sun Times, November 4, 1994. Web. September 21, 2011. < http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/19941104/REVIEWS/411040302/1023 >
IMDB. Frankenstein (1994). 1994. Web. September 21, 2011. < http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0109836/>