Mary Shelley's Frankenstein
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Robert De Niro, Helena Bonham Carter, Ian Holm, Aidan Quinn, John Cleese
And what of my soul? Do I have one? Or was that a part you left out?
Back in 1992 Francis Ford Coppola scored a critical and financial hit with his new adaptation/remake of Dracula. The film was big budget, bigger casted, grander, source friendly take on the book. So, when that happens, we dig in and do the same for the other monsters right? And here's pretty much where Frankenstein comes back into play. Earlier in the same year, you also got the Jack Nicholson and Michelle Pfeiffer modernized update on the werewolf film (Wolf). This would follow Coppola's model moreso, with being a grand period piece.
Actor Kenneth Branagh was brought on to direct and from his previous directing work you can see how they felt this was a slam dunk. The guy had already made a name for himself in the field of medieval and period dramas. Surely he'd be able to rock the Frankenstein world. And with things that Branagh is very good at, he does indeed rock that world. But there are some moments that he also doesn't truly succeed at as well. Its a sort of uneven film, and Branagh is a bit hit and miss with some of the bigger moments. He also gets some set pieces that look like some beautiful modernized Hammer locations.
The film is a little ahead of its time in that its earlier moments feel like that dreaded nonsense origin story bullshit we'd be cluttered with in the 00s. Some of this is from the novel, but there is plenty of embellished stuff in here too. There is also a focus on trying to hammer home a sense of incest with Victor and Elizabeth and its odd because its really not even remotely incest. The bookend of Captain Walton at the North Pole feels like excess and that they could have told the story without it, but it is indeed a part of the book, and like Coppola before him, Branagh was trying to get as close an adaptation as he could.
"The Creature" as its called, played by Robert DeNiro, luckily is terrific and the best part of the film. There are many upon many of scenes that are incredible highlights for the lore of any Frankenstein film or book. And DeNiro plays his part pretty much perfectly. You couldn't ask for any better. Him at the family on the outskirts house provide good moments. In particular, when he and Victor have a sit down chat about where to go from here and The Creature wanting a mate and to disappear, that's some damn good cinema right there. Perfect, acting, dialogue, execution. DeNiro also can get quite sinister and incredibly cruel and evil which helps where some of the editing or shooting isn't quite working.
Branagh has some moments that play out a little too silly at times and a bit over the top. Whether it be a big action sequence or line deliveries, its very unbalanced. However, there are times where he frickin' hits the spot perfectly. He goes beyond the book and introduces The Bride in the end, and its a haunting, eerie moment. But what is awesome, is when she light herself afire and runs bumping through the halls setting the house on aflame. I don't know how practical or logical that all works out, but I don't care. Its fictional tale, and that particular moment looked fantastic.
Say what you will about the film, but one thing you can't say it isn't is entertaining. While a hair too long, the film is always somewhat interesting, whether it be a big science sequence or dramatic moment. What Branagh's pacing needed assistance in is that he hangs on some scenes or events a bit too long than they need be, and some of the stuff he should have slowed up and spent more time on. All in all, this film is still plenty solid. Its not perfect by any stretch (The first act is a little rough), but I still think its very good and very loyal to its source, with much more highs than the very few lows. I don't think this one was thought of too fondly upon release (39% on RT...yeesh), so definitely something that needs reanalyzed.
NEXT TIME: Keep going? Okay...i'll try...