Saturday, May 08, 2010


From the Vault: Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

Lots of lightning come with the territory when telling the story of "Frankenstein," but in the latest movie version, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, it's the quieter moments that retain the most power.

This new Frankenstein film stars Kenneth Branagh (who also directed) as Victor Frankenstein, an aspiring medical student with an unhealthy interest in beating death by harnessing electricity to restore life. Unfortunately, the talented Branagh delivers a rather lackluster performance, failing to make the character's obsessive nature convincing.

In any Frankenstein tale, you need a monster and this time he stomps onto the screen in the form of Robert De Niro, who displays his increasing tendency to go over the top. De Niro makes up for it when he's given some quieter moments and nice speeches late in the film (though the monster learns to read even faster than De Niro did in Stanley and Iris).

The best moments of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein fall to the supporting players who get more subdued moments like Ian Holm, Helena Bonham Carter, Tom Hulce and, especially, a nearly unrecognizable John Cleese as Victor's medical mentor. Alas, pretty much everything else about the film disappoints with Branagh directing some scenes as if he were Mack Sennett editing a Keystone Kops comedy.

As Branagh displayed in Dead Again, he often tries to distract the viewer with flashy technique instead of solid storytelling. Perhaps the weakest of the film's weaknesses is Patrick Doyle's oppressive musical score which tends to compete for our attention against every word and sound.

Francis Ford Coppola produced Mary Shelley's Frankenstein two years after he brought us Bram Stoker's Dracula. While that film contained many faults, it looks like a masterpiece when compared to the boring botch this new film turns out to be.

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