The Frankenstein story (or, The Modern Prometheus, if you prefer) has always been a big favourite of mine. The character of The Monster in particular has been a fascination of mine. Boris Karloff’s brilliant take on the character still remains one of my absolute favourite performances ever. The tale has been retold again and again over the years, most recently Paul McGuigan’s Victor Frankenstein, with varying degrees of success. Now writer/director Bernard Rose (of Candyman fame) has a go at Mary Shelley’s novel with Frankenstein, bringing the tale into the 21st century with modern tweaks. As for the question of whether this adaptation of the story was warranted? Oh, yes.
Viktor Frankenstein (Danny Huston) and his wife Elizabeth (Carrie-Anne Moss) are research scientists living in LA, attempting to create the perfect human using 3D printing. If they’re successful, the window opens to the possibility of extending human life, as well as creating cures for various diseases. Their attempts prove successful, and “Adam” (Xavier Samuel) is born. However, Adam soon begins to contract disease, and is rejected by Viktor and Elizabeth. After a failed attempt to euthanize him, Adam escapes into the world, searching for answers.
Any apprehensions about the idea of reworking the story to have a more modern look and feel can be put to bed. Rose has taken care to keep the faithfulness of the ideas that were originally presented in the novel. Whether it’s the little girl Adam meets and plays with, or the blind man that Adam befriends (played by Tony Todd), the ideas remain the same in spite of their modern take. However, the film does deviate from the novel in the relationship shared between creature and creators, for obvious reasons. There’s also a lack of feeling of revenge for Adam, nor is there the demand for a mate. Rose again puts a twist on both, supplanting the revenge aspects for a longing to be loved by his surrogate mother in Elizabeth, and also showing the creation of another “Adam”. In a nice addition to the film that many adaptations have failed to include are the moments of internal monologues by Adam that mimic The Creature’s narration in the novel. Granted, they can feel out of place by their comparison to how Adam actually communicates, but one could rationalize that Adam thinks these thoughts, but simply is unable to communicate them. It’s all still quite impressive how Rose was able to present the story with the changes and still make it work.
The big part for me was how Xavier Samuel brought Adam to life (no pun intended) as The Creature. Samuel captured the child-like mind and innocence the character needed perfectly. His reactions and expression to things such as having a ball tossed to him (and tossed back), or the fallout from the scene involving the little girl continually reinforces that idea of a child-like view of the world. It’s not on the level of Karloff’s performance, but what is? While the literal babying of a grown man by Carrie-Anne Moss seems absurd, Moss is able to make it work as Elizabeth. Elizabeth’s caring for and of Adam is contrasted by Danny Huston’s portrayal of Viktor as cold and consumed with his scientific pursuits. Needless to say, you can tell who Adam longs to be loved by. Praise also goes to Tony Todd as the blind hobo, Eddie. Todd makes the moment when Adam happens upon Eddie work so well, and really does hearken back to the scene in Bride Of Frankenstein.
The film unfortunately does fall short in spots. After the strong beginning, the story does tend to be on the laggy side until the eventual climax when it picks up again. In spite of that, the ending feels a little rushed and is hampered by the obvious use of CG fire. Also, there are a few characters, such as the vengeful cop that Adam repeatedly happens upon or the hooker that explains the business between the sheets with Adam, that are underdeveloped and are there simply to advance the story. Even in Elizabeth there are some rough edges, as she frustratingly goes between sympathy and indifference for no reason other than story.
In spite of all this, Frankenstein definitely has a place in the line of adaptations of Shelley’s work. The underlying themes of science and humanity Shelley explored with her novel are still here with an effective modern take by Bernard Rose. A strong central performance by Samuel, with some great modern reimaginings of scenes from the novel that perfectly mirror the original story, make for an emotional and dramatic horror tale. If you never got the chance to see the film at this past year’s Sitges or Frightfest, definitely check it out when it hits DVD this February.