Frankenstein is a 2004 American television mini-series directed by Kevin Connor (At the Earth’s Core, Motel Hell) from a screenplay by Mark Kruger based on the novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. It follows the original book more closely than most other adaptations.
The movie stars Alec Newman, Luke Goss (Unearthed), Julie Delpy, Nicole Lewis, Monika Hilmerová, Donald Sutherland (Don’t Look Now), William Hurt (Altered States) and Tomas Mastalir.
Captain Robert Walton is a failed writer who sets out to explore the North Pole and expand his scientific knowledge in hopes of achieving fame. During the voyage the crew spots a dog sled mastered by a gigantic figure.
A few hours later, the crew rescues a nearly frozen and emaciated man named Victor Frankenstein. Frankenstein has been in pursuit of the gigantic man observed by Walton’s crew. Frankenstein starts to recover from his exertion; he sees in Walton the same over-ambitiousness and recounts a story of his life’s miseries to Walton as a warning.
Victor begins by telling of his childhood in 1793. Born into a wealthy family in Geneva, he is encouraged to seek a greater understanding of the world around him through science. He grows up in a safe environment, surrounded by loving family and friends. When he is a young boy, his parents adopt Elizabeth Lavenza, an orphan whose mother has just died. Victor has a possessive infatuation with Elizabeth. He has a younger brother, William. As a young boy, Victor is obsessed with studying outdated theories of science, philosophy and alchemy that focus on achieving natural wonders. He plans to attend the University of Ingolstadt in Germany. Weeks before his planned departure, his mother dies of scarlet fever.
At university, he excels at chemistry and other sciences, and develops a secret technique to imbue inanimate bodies with life with electricity. After bringing a deceased dog back to life he decides to create a life using parts of the dead…
Frankenstein has been filmed numerous times over the last hundred years – even if we disregard the sequels and the spin offs, we’re into double figures for versions of Mary Shelley’s novel. And over the last few decades, authenticity seems to be the selling point – while the Universal and Hammer versions of the story only really took inspiration from the book, claiming to be a faithful adaptation has been the thing to do since Frankenstein: The True Story in 1973. The fact that most of these versions continued to play fast and loose with the original story is neither here nor there.
This 2004 two-part television adaptation (not to be confused with another 2004 TV movie) might well be the most faithful rendering of the novel to date. But that isn’t necessarily a good thing – what works in a novel published in 1818 might not work in a film version shot 200 years later. And this production, while ambitious and handsomely mounted, is ultimately a dull affair that feels all too clearly padded to stretch the running time, yet still manages to skip over important aspects of the source narrative.
The plot – told in flashback by a dying Frankenstein to ship captain Robert Walton (Donald Sutherland) – certainly sticks to the main thrust of the novel, but aims to make the viewer sympathise with the ‘monster’, who is literate, tortured and ultimately only wants to be loved, but who is driven to vengeance by the fact that his ‘father’ despises him. Which is all well and good, except that the otherwise padded and plodding film manages to skip over huge chunks that might explain the relationship between the pair.
It’s not just that the actual creation and revival of the monster is almost glossed over, treated more as an aside than the central point of the narrative. It’s also that there is nothing to show why Frankenstein suddenly sees his creation as an abomination and, more to the point, why he is so quick to attribute the murder of his brother to a monster that he hasn’t seen or heard of since it vanished on the night it was created. Why would he assume that (a) it is an evil creature, and (b) that it must be responsible for the killing? It makes no sense.
As for the monster, Goss gives a better performances than you’d expect – he’s actually quite moving in the final scene, and certainly plays it as a sympathetic victim rather than a monster, even when murdering the innocent. But his performance is let down by the fact that he clearly isn’t the hideous giant that we keep being told he is.
This isn’t Christopher Lee’s grotesque creature from The Curse of Frankenstein, or even the Boris Karloff character. Instead, he looks like someone with a bad skin condition, which is hardly the sort of thing that would provoke such extreme reactions from those who see him, and although constantly talked about as if he’s eight feet tall, he’s clearly the same size as all the other characters in the film. Whether this was due to the censorial requirements of the Hallmark Channel or just the fear that making the monster as gruesome as he’s supposed to be would alienate viewers, but it’s a massive blunder.
It’s a shame because there is potential here. There could be a good 90-minute film to be culled out of this story, and the production values are impressive. Kevin Conner is a good enough director to ensure that this at least has a sense of style to it.
Unfortunately, the production is needlessly long and lacks any real sense of drama, let alone horror. Any two part TV version of Frankenstein is bound to make you think of Frankenstein: The True Story, and this pales in comparison.
David Flint, MOVIES and MANIA
Buy the US Lions Gate DVD from Amazon.com