Synopsis:When the brilliant, but unorthodox scientist, Dr. Victor Frankenstein, rejects the artificial man that he has created, the Creature escapes, and later swears revenge.
Even if you have no idea who Mary Shelley is, you would without a doubt recognize the name of her novel. Only, you might not think of a book; instead, the name would, without a doubt, conjure up one single iconic image in your mind; Frankenstein. It’s the image of a monster. This is because of the true interest of the story, concerns the affairs of the creation, and not the creator. If Kenneth Branagh’s 1994 adaptation has one real saving grace, it’s that it understands this.
The film’s titular purpose is to stay true to the original text, and it does so with varying consistency. But at times its promise is also its downfall. The prologue/epilogue storyline that bookends the film feels totally unnecessary. And the mix of rich, poetic, dialogue straight from the novel, with lines like “What the hell is that!” makes for a strangely unbalanced watch. Indeed, that lack of balance can be found in almost every facet of the film. The style constantly flips between a gritty realism (the creature’s awakening interpreted at childbirth, complete with embryonic fluid, was a definite favorite scene) and a theatrical cheesiness (Elizabeth reading a letter aloud as she writes it, with the pen so clearly not touching the paper.) You’re never quite sure what type of film you’re watching.
Branagh himself plays Victor Frankenstein, Helena Bonham Carter as the love interest Elizabeth, and the legendary Robert DeNiro portrays the hideous creature. The cast holds their own well, despite the material not offering much. With the best moments lingering on DeNiro’s performance as a monster who knows he’s ugly. However, one of the films biggest issues is the camera’s unwillingness to let the actors do their jobs. Too often, an emotional scene is cut short by a distracting movement, and the film boasts more circle-pans than a Michael Bay flick, most of which serve no purpose at all. Overall, the cast is up to par, even if they never really exceed in any way.
The best and most entertaining aspect of the film are its visuals. Incredible set design, beautiful locations, and awesome pre-CGI props and robotics fill out this made-for-TV spectacle, with the make-up design really being the icing on the cake. The monster’s stitched-together face and body are incredibly convincing, and the transformation of the healing process is a joy to watch. Much of the gore, while usually believable, is never scary but rather uncomfortable. The film can be hard to watch, but it will never make you afraid in any way. The same applies to many of its over-the-top scenes of violence (an especially unmoving organ-removal comes to mind) which creates again, a feeling of total unbalance. You’ll never be sure whether you’re watching a gothic horror, a shiny romance, theater piece or slasher film.
In the end, Branagh takes the film in too many different directions. In an effort to achieve much, he ends up with very little. Instead of stylizing his film, he stumps it. It all makes for an extremely bumpy watch. One that beautiful staircases, wonderfully grotesque flesh, and even the pleading eyes of Robert DeNiro can’t save.
About Frankenstein 1994
AKA: Mary Shelley's Frankenstein
Runtime: 123 minutes
Genre: Horror, Drama, Sci-Fi, Romance
Total Avg. Votes: 13
Writers: Mary Shelley, Steph Lady, Frank Darabont
Director: Kenneth Branagh