Browse all reviews by letter     A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z 0 - 9

USA 1994
Directed by
Kenneth Branagh
128 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
1 stars

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

It is more than a bit of cheek to call this film Mary Shelley's Frankenstein when it is so clearly Kenneth Branagh’s.  A clue as to why it is travelling under that moniker is in the credit to Francis Ford Coppola as producer. Coppola had directed Bram Stoker’s Dracula in 1992 and had intended this as a companion piece. For some reason he handed over the reins to Branagh, a decision he came deeply to regret.  And rightly so.

Branagh plays Victor Frankenstein, an idealistic young medical student caught up in the late 18th obsession with what was then called “natural philosophy” conjoined with a taste for the occult. He turns grave robber and fashions a mis-shapen creature (Robert De Niro) who vows vengeance on his maker.

Central to this yarn is Branagh himself as Victor, variously cutting a dashing figure on the ballroom floor or stripped to the waist  like a rock god orchestrating his unholy deed but always being  a man possessed by a greater vision. Ironically, as Frankenstein’s sin was vanity so Branagh’s film is truly the director’s monster, the ludicrously incompetent stitches of the latter being like a visual metaphor of the Branagh’s own clumsily stitched-together creation.

The problems begin with the first few frames which depict, very unconvincingly (a studio tank, a large amount of Styrofoam and spray-on snow seem to be involved), a shipwreck in the Arctic Circle.  This allows Frankenstein to conveniently appear, literally, out of nowhere and tell his story to the similarly ambitious explorer (an equally unconvincing Aidan Quinn) seeking glory in lands unknown.

Whilst there is plenty of money visible on screen, the implemental arts (production design, art direction, costume design, and so on, clearly being top-drawer, the script by Steph Lady and Frank Darabont not only needlessly tampers with Shelley’s plot but delivers dialogue that is an ungainly conflation of 18th and 20th century English.

What will strike most audiences as self-sabotaging is, however, the bizarre casting.  One can understand Branagh casting himself in the lead, but Helena Bonham Carter, not yet the go-to Goth girl she would become seems out of her depth, frantically staring in crisis after crisis as presumably Branagh encouraged her to do. On the other hand Tom Hulce, who got very lucky with Amadeus (1984) and looks and sounds like he’s just walked off the set of that film, shouldn’t be in it. Nor for self-evident reasons should John Cleese. It’s not that he isn’t good in his part but he’s John Cleese for crying out loud!.  Ditto for Robert DeNiro. His is probably the only thing of interest in the film but he’s still Robert DeNiro. Ian Holm, who is very good playing quietly anonymous Englishmen is simply overwhelmed  by his surroundings as Frankenstein Snr. Branagh evidently had in mind some kind of larger-than-life fairy tale but this kind of casting only impedes suspension of disbelief.

As for Branagh’s direction his conception of Frankenstein’s Creature owes more to James Whale’s classic 1931 screen adaptation, in which Boris Karloff played the Creature than anything of his own.  For all the money and technical advancements he had access to Branagh does not come close to that film’s success and in particular the memorable pathos of the so-called Monster which, after all, was Shelley’s central concern.

Instead he imports gratuitous gore in the form of a bloody Caesarean performed by a bare-chested Frankenstein Snr., lamely executed SFX (notably the out-of-sync immolation of Elizabeth) and swirling camerawork (e.g. the 360 degree tracking shots, used I think, three times).

Coppola’s film was no masterpiece but Branagh’s is a travesty, a pumped up, hollow spectacle that is sometimes laughable in its misjudgments but largely insufferably pretentious.




Want something different?

random vintage best worst