Lionsgate // 2004 // 204 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // November 24th, 2004
A classic tale of undying love.
(from the box cover!)
Someone once told me Dracula is the most filmed story of all time. I'm not sure whether they were only counting films actually named "Dracula" or including films inspired by it. But something tells me Frankenstein is a very close second. When I asked to review the title, I thought this was the USA Network version of the story, which featured Parker Posey. Imagine my surprise when I opened the envelope to find Donald Sutherland, William Hurt, and "Paul Atreides" staring back at me. And worse -- Hallmark Entertainment was credited as the production company, so right away I knew I was in for the greeting card version of the story. [Ed. note: Hey, they also produced Farscape, Brett!] Maybe it will be brief. No such luck there -- the box read two hundred and four minutes. Let's say it was the first time I was terrified to sit down and watch Frankenstein, because this was Hallmark's Frankenstein (2004).
Take a look at this cast:
Luke Goss: The Creature
Alec Newman: Victor Frankenstein
Nicole Lewis: Elizabeth
Julie Delpy: Caroline Frankenstein
Monika Hilmerová: Justine
Donald Sutherland: Captain Walton
William Hurt: Professor Waldman
This is certainly not going to be anywhere close to the James Whale 1930s version of Frankenstein. First off -- Luke Goss as The Creature? Luke is a pop star in Britain, and may only be familiar to you as "that first super vamp" in the opening sequence of Blade 2. He is also famous for his forays into musical theatre, and once starred in an on stage adaptation of Plan 9 From Outer Space. He's pretty handsome. Not rugged Mel Gibson Mad Max handsome, but pretty as in Rick Springfield General Hospital handsome (or any member of Duran Duran). And Dr. Frankenstein is portrayed by the star of both of the SciFi Channel's Dune miniseries. He's kinda pretty too. Also featuring Donald Sutherland (Ordinary People, and that '70s remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers) and William Hurt (Kiss of the Spider Woman). This screams "new take on an old story."
The film was shot in 2003 on location in Bratislava, Slovakia. It has some breathtakingly beautiful countrysides in it, and a real Eastern European village flair. But can someone tell me how Hallmark always gets their movies to look like they were shot in the '70s? There's always this incredible soft gauziness to their camera work -- it makes me wonder if they have some special patented filter that immediately lets you know what channel the movie should be shown on. The director, Kevin Connor, is a veteran of over forty television productions and Motel Hell, while the teleplay was written by Mark Kruger, who's biggest title has been Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh. At least they both have some horror films under their belts.
This particular adaptation is not centered on the horror story; it combines Mary Shelley's novel with some film conventions to make it a love story -- a Gothic love story of epic proportions, to be exact. It opens as Victor Frankenstein and The Creature are chasing each other in dogsleds across the Arctic tundra. The good doctor goes down, and is rescued by Donald Sutherland, the captain of an ice ship. Frankenstein begins to tell him his story. Poor Sutherland must have had painful butt sores afterwards, because his story apparently takes three hours. We see Victor's entire life, from childhood to his studies at University to unleash the secrets of life and electricity. We also get to see the life of The Creature, which is a pretty sad and lonely tale throughout. You see, this time The Creature is a sympathetic hero, who looks disturbingly attractive for a reanimated corpse. He has perfect teeth, killer eyebrows, some fabulous cheek bones, and a body that suggests the doctor was getting corpses from 24 Hour Fitness. And yet people still throw stones at him, and chase him from their homes and villages. Okay...He could be a Chippendale dancer, and people are afraid of him? Sure. He also reads Milton's Paradise Lost, and talks extremely well. There are scenes where he debates philosophy (which is, in fact, pretty close to the source novel).
I know the love story is supposed to be between Victor and Elizabeth, but honestly this version has me thinking it's a West Hollywood gay fable. Take for instance the creation scene. It's done in Victor's bedroom; he has electrical conduits hooked up to his dead hottie in a bathtub. Victor runs around in a nightshirt, boxers, and jaunty black leather boots. The Creature is lounging in a bath covered only with some gauze strategically placed over his face and privates. He comes to life, and they both swoon and faint. The Creature wakes him by clasping his face in his hands, in a very sweet motion that made me wonder if they were about to lock lips. They both end up screaming and running into the night (closet cases?); Victor forgets to get dressed. The Creature puts on a suit and stumbles out into the brave new world. The whole time the monster is loose he looks like Cher or Marilyn Manson with a lot less make-up (not too hard to do, come to think of it). Anytime he does anything remotely bad he cries. Yes -- streams of salty tears issue from The Creature. And he basically stalks Victor, as if to say "If you won't love me then nobody is gonna love you!." It's three hours of watching two men torture each other over an unconsummated love affair.
Maybe The Rocky Horror Picture Show wasn't as much of a spoof as I originally thought. This version has little in the way of gore or horror, so it could be considered family-friendly. Trouble is, the kids may pick up on the more homoerotic elements, and then you'd have lots of explaining to do. Gothic horror is filled with sex anyway. I always thought the real crime of Frankenstein in the novel was that he skipped women in the reproductive process. He made women obsolete, and created his own life without any consummation. So maybe these filmmakers are on to something!
The film is slowly paced, but not unbearably so. It's very pretty in every aspect. Even when people die it ends with them looking as if they're ready to do an Abercrombie and Fitch photo shoot -- here, death becomes our characters. What can I say? It's no longer a tale of horror as much as it is a fashionable jog through Eastern Europe. Still, there are many sequences that hearken back to Shelley's original vision. But why do they feel the need to flesh it out so much and add the accepted Hollywood mythos into the story? I have yet to see a true adaptation of the written story, where voodoo and science bring the monster to life. The acting is fine throughout, and we even get some fun turns from Sutherland and Hurt. They are never central to the story, but they add flavor where needed. If you have someone special in your life who detests horror movies, this is the version to show them.
The DVD is presented in full screen, and the transfer is fine except for grain in some of the darker scenes (of which there are few). There is a very brief featurette, mostly talking with the leads about their approaches to the characters and the story. They seem to think they are making a more compassionate story rather than the typical Frankenstein. It made me think of James Whale, who did succeed in both scaring us and making us sympathize with Boris Karloff's creature. And did it in well under two hours! Here we just want to give The Creature a big hug and have him read some Milton to us. I wanted to hire the Creature as a personal trainer and have him cut my hair. The doctor comes off as the monster here. He keeps rejecting the poor guy, when all he wants is someone to call "Daddy." If you like your monsters full of philosophy -- and extremely dateable -- this is your Frankenstein.
Guilty, guilty, guilty! Guilty pleasure, too. The prettiest Frankenstein ever!
Review content copyright © 2004 Brett Cullum; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 204 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* "Making of" Featurette
* Soundtrack Recording Details