Frankenstein (2004) DVD Review: A Little Too Anemic to be Gothic

“I shall ascend my funeral pile triumphantly and exult in the agony of the torturing flames…” or not, as the case might be.
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The television miniseries Frankenstein (2004) is based on Mary Shelley's novel, is directed by Kevin Connor, and stars Alec Newman (Victor Frankenstein), Luke Goss (The Monster), Julie Delphy (Caroline), Nicole Lewis (Elisabeth), Donald Sutherland (Captian Walton), William Hurt (Professor Waldman), and Mark Jax (Victor's father). This is a two-part miniseries, 204 minutes in total, that tries to take on one of those stories that live in the cultural subconscious in ways that mostly have nothing to do with Mary Shelley's original epistolary novel. As such it does a much better job that Branagh or Boris Karloff. But verisimilitude is nor everything, as this proves. 

Frankenstein 2004The story begins when Captain Walton (Donald Sutherland), whose ship has been frozen into the arctic ice, takes a stranger on board after having seen him chasing another across the barren landscape. The stranger, Victor Frankenstein, starts telling his terrible tale of hubris and horror as he lies dying. That's the framework for this particular tale and we get to follow Victor through childhood, adolescence, and up to his university days where his obsession with the knowledge of life and death prompts him into sowing together bits of cadavers into a rough approximation of a human being and then give it life with electricity. A good deal of willing suspension of disbelief is required for the modern viewer, but that's fine. The moody garret in which Frankenstein performs his art is suitably gothic in appearance and we already know this tale, so the madman scientist screaming “Live! Live!” over a stitched together corpse as thunder rolls is fine. 

Victor succeeds in his endeavours and then flees in horror when he is confronted by what he has done. The Monster is left to his own devices and escapes out into the night, left to fend for itself. The Monster is understandably a little disappointed with his creator for rejecting him and that's when the elaborate cat-and-mouse game begins. The Monster haunts Victor's life, killing those closest to him, and then finally appearing on the ship where Victor has perished to carry him out into the raging blizzard. It's all very poetic. 

That being said, this is not by any means an untroubled version of the epic tale of a man who goes against the laws of god in pursuit of scientific knowledge. It is difficult to see where this story is supposed to take place, geographically. The narrative takes us from Switzerland to Germany to England to the Arctic and this adaptation seems to exist in some kind of rural pageantry of something that looks like central Europe. Costumes are equally anachronistic and undetermined. For some inscrutable reason Professor Waldman (William Hurt) speaks with a bad German accent that's frankly just irksome. The overall acting style seems to heavily favor the theatrical to a point where the histrionics teeter on the very edge of unintentional comedy. 

The Monster (Luke Goss), however, is given a better accounting for than a lot of versions of the same tale. It is governed by strong emotion in the novel as well, and not really tempered by reason. Victor, however, comes across as vain and whiny. 

If you want to view Frankenstein as a kind of Romantic melodrama, this is the way to go. It does not try for any kind of horror, or even a mild scare. As a morality play, it does pretty well, but overall it's nothing more than that, despite the heavy hitters in the cast and solid performances by Luke Goss and Alec Newman. It’s all kind of nice and polite and innocuous. And that is not really what I hope for from this particular tale. 

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