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Frankenstein monster movie lacks electricity

By Movie Man | Published Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Ah, Frankenstein’s monster!

That wonderful creature from the Movie Man’s youth has been through hundreds of film incarnations.

Some were cool and some really bad. This latest attempt, “I, Frankenstein,” is one of the lesser efforts, sadly.

ABOUT THE FILM

The Movie Man will admit that he’ll cut some ratings slack to monster movies.

While the campy “Godzilla” remake of 1994 was weak (a 4), he was generous to the new “King Kong” that Peter Jackson made in 2005 (an 8).

Where the Movie Man differed from many when it comes to relatively recent monster movies actually concerns a Frankenstein film.

Like Francis Ford Coppola’s daring version of “Dracula” in 1992 – the Movie Man column was born in 1993, but he would’ve been impressed by this very adult version (8) – the Frankenstein movie made in 1994 came loaded with potential.

Almost 20 years ago, “Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein” starred such luminaries as Robert De Niro as the creature and Kenneth Branagh as the mad Doctor Frankenstein. (Recall that the man is Frankenstein, not the monster.)

Branagh also directed, and offbeat actors like Tom Hulce, Helena Bonham Carter, and even Monty Python member John Cleese appeared.

Lauded for being a much truer adaptation than prior historical Frankenstein releases (hence, author Mary Shelley’s name in the title), MSF was not embraced when released in America in November 1994.

At $22 million, it took in less than half of its $45 million budget. (And it came out in thousands of theaters.)

Plus, it took a bludgeoning from hardcore monster movie fans who found it too bombastic.

Branagh delivered a movie that was loaded with melodramatic theatrics fitting for the subject matter of the era – hence the “overacting” and excessive flourishes.

The Movie Man liked it. He gave it a ‘+’ which would’ve been an 8 today. And, almost two decades distant now, the movie is being appreciated much more.

There have been a slew of Frankenstein movies (aside from other media) since the 1910 original, and, like Sherlock Holmes and Dracula, the crazed scientist and his creature will not stay dead.

Look for the doc and creature to rise again – and that’s great news for those of us out there who love our monster movies.

THE PLOT

In the late 1700s, Victor Frankenstein (Aden Young) cracks the secret of creating life, using electricity to animate a huge being created from parts of corpses.

The lonely monster (Aaron Eckhart), hated and feared, kills the doctor’s wife and lumbers to icy Alaska. The enraged Dr. Frankenstein follows his creation but freezes to death.

Eckhart carries his creator back to the castle. While burying him, some devilish creatures attack and try to capture the monster. But the newcomers are destroyed by even more beings; these fly.

Captured anyway, Eckhart is taken by the airborne victors to their leader. There, the monster discovers that, unknown to mankind, a centuries-long battle has been taking place between evil demons and good gargoyles.

Eckhart wants nothing to do with any of that and leaves to live alone for 200 years. But the demons eventually find him. Finally, the creature decides he’ll have to traipse back to the real world and get rid of those pesky bad guys himself.

The head demon, Naberius (Bill Nighy), has spent centuries trying to recreate how Dr. Frankenstein made dead tissue live. Once he learns that, Nighy can animate a marauding army of undead to destroy mankind. Nighy needs either Eckhart or the good doctor’s ancient – and missing – notebook.

Eventually, Nighy gets what he needs and begins the process of reanimating his evil mass of minions while the gargoyles, demons and Eckhart fight all around.

WHAT WORKS

The movie totally wraps up the entire Shelley book in the first 90 seconds. (More here would’ve been nice.)

Those early scenes gave the Movie Man hope that “I, Frankenstein” would be one of those “‘good’ bad movies” – an Old School B picture that still had some cool moments. Alas, no.

Eckhart’s monster is scarred but ripped with muscles. He’s no staggering dullard but a fighting machine. That’s a new take and interesting – after a couple hundred years, you’d probably get good at a lot of things, including sword wielding and sit-ups.

The movie doesn’t waste any time trying to make sense of the silly science behind the reanimation or the fact that Eckhart manages to be immortal somehow.

BEST SCENE

The good guy gargoyles are outnumbered by the evil demons. You’d think that after centuries of fighting that the demons would’ve figured out the best way to win – which they finally do: bum rush the gargoyles’ stronghold.

Streams of humans turning into devilish creatures pour down city streets and sail off buildings in a scene that reflects a comic book panel – and since “I, Frankenstein” came from a graphic novel, it fits.

WHAT DOESN’T WORK

This movie was produced by the same folks that made the “Underworld” series which concerns a werewolf vs. vampire war – not too different from the gargoyle/demon battle.

The films even look similar, gloomy and dark.

Sadly, the 3-D effects are not great. It’s always a bummer when those chances are missed.

The Movie Man was disappointed that fewer classic lines weren’t issued. Just “It’s alive!” (The trailers contained “Frankenstein must be destroyed!” which was the name of a 1969 Hammer movie.) You might as well have some fun with what has gone before.

The film gets a little convoluted as the gargoyles are good then kinda bad then good again.

You might not hear a more excessive soundtrack this year. It’s loud and grandiose and distracting.

The dialogue is bad (on purpose?); graphic book author Kevin Grevioux wrote the screenplay and even plays a role, so it all falls on him.

THE RATING

The PG-13 is just fine here. There’s little bad language and just some goofy action movie kung fu stuff – with monsters.

SUMMING UP

Alas, “I, Frankenstein” is not ‘good’ bad but just forgettable bad. Bummer.

NEXT UP

“That Awkward Moment,” maybe. Or a missed Oscar hopeful.

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