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review added: 8/5/99



Frankenstein
Classic Monster Collection - 1938 (1999) - Universal Studios

review by Todd Doogan, special to The Digital Bits

Frankenstein: Classic Monster Collection Film Ratings: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/A/A

Specs and Features

71 mins, NR, full screen (1.33:1), single-sided, dual-layered (no layer switch, extra layer for supplements), Amaray keep case packaging, theatrical trailer, documentary The Frankenstein Files: How Hollywood Made A Monster written, directed and hosted by David J. Skal, short comedic film Boo!, audio commentary featuring film historian Rudy Behlmer, The Frankenstein Archives (featuring music, production stills and advertising materials), production notes, cast & crew bios, film-themed menu screens with animation and sound effects, scene access (16 chapters), languages: English (DD 2.0 mono), subtitles: English & French, Close Captioned


Warning! The Monster is Loose!

Well, it's about time. I'm a very, very lucky fanboy right now. Surrounding myself with my Little Big Head Monster collection, my Universal Monster dolls, and a room full of candles, I've settled in for a long night with the DVD player. Now, before you start chuckling to yourself, and commenting under your breath that I must have a really sucky life, let me first deny that my life is sucky, and let me tell you why I'm doing this. I just got an advance copy of Frankenstein on DVD. That's right -- the jam-packed, worth every penny, top-shelf edition of Frankenstein on DVD, that most of you unlucky ones won't have access to until later this month. That's not a statement meant to taunt -- that's my way of warning you to start saving your pennies now, because the minute this disc hits the shelves, every single one of you needs to run out and pick it up.

There isn't one person over the age of 10 out there, who doesn't know what Frankenstein is. If that's an incorrect statement, then you'd best just keep your mouth shut, and go out and read the book, or if you can't wait until this disc comes out, go rent the videotape. I can't, nay, won't, go into the story here. The briefest of summaries is this -- it's about a scientist who messes with nature, only to have nature bite back and take a huge chunk out of his ass. Boris Karloff (who played the monster only after Bela Lugosi backed out), with his Jack Pierce make-up, has become one of the most identifiable images in all of 20th century cinema. This film made him one of the most bankable horror actors of all time. It began a legacy of silver screen horror that still endures today. And the movie itself became an instant classic. As horror classics go, this is one of the 10 "most classic", in my opinion. On my list, I'd put this one at 5, right below Phantom Of The Opera and Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari, but above Dracula and The Wolf Man. I'm quite happy that this wonderful film is now a part of my DVD collection.

I'm not going to steal any thunder from this disc. Literally everything you will NEED to know about Frankenstein the movie, the book, and its effect on Hollywood, is contained on this disc. This is a tool for film lovers, and a must-own disc for DVD fans everywhere. The information on this disc is presented in three ways. First, there is a very enjoyable commentary track from film historian Rudy Behlmer, who really knows his stuff. He obviously loves this film, and you can hear his passion for this film in his voice as he throws nuggets of information about. He talks about the creation of the monster, the history of the book, and all of the theatrical stage plays and short films that preceded this film production. It's an invaluable track, and one of the best to come out this year. On top of the commentary, is a 45-minute documentary, written by David J. Skal. Skal did the stellar commentary track on Gods And Monsters, and turns in an equally impressive effort on this disc. I do think that Skal would better suit film history behind the camera, as he plays a very hammy on-camera host. His narration, research, and writing are all great, though -- this is a documentary that suits this disc just fine, and could easily stand on its own. Finally, the disc boasts a nice section of stills, posters, cast and crew bios, and production notes. All in all, you're gonna walk away an expert on Frankie after you watch this disc all the way through.

Okay, so the movie is super, the special edition is super. What about the quality of the disc video and sound-wise? That's a tougher question. It's an old film, first off. So based just on that, I do think this looks better than any version I've seen this film in before. But there is that one monster that nothing can escape, especially film: time. Time has not been kind to Frankenstein. The film "flashes" on occasion from faded areas of the print, there are excessive hairs and dust specks visible, and a few tears on the emulsion are very clearly apparent. Did the restoration crew do the best job they could? I betcha they did. Could a better job be done? I think maybe, but it would have cost a pretty penny. Don't get me wrong -- this is an outstanding print, but I can see its faults. They're faults that may not be too distracting visually, but they're still faults that I think could have been fixed (based on what we've seen with other old, and even more damaged prints out there, like The 400 Blows and Most Dangerous Game). The sound is straight and classic mono, although the documentary is in stereo, and both sound just fine. The audio quality is perfect for this film, very natural, and surprisingly vibrant for such an old classic.

The disc itself is very well crafted. The menu screens have a lot of personality, complete with a weird main menu animation, backed by music from the film. The other menu screens use nicely restored film stills. The menus are easy to use, and even without all the flash of the Ghostbusters special edition, I think the class and charm of this disc makes it that much more impressive. This is another great job from Universal. It's a complete package that delivers.

DVD fans need more discs like this. It's wonderful to see studios going full throttle on library titles like this. When Warner starts to release the RKO titles they have, or their classic animated shorts (think Bugs Bunny), I hope they look at Frankenstein as a reference disc. This is DVD used as both entertainment, and as a way of preserving and teaching classic film history. It's funny to watch the documentary on this disc, because it's so "film historian" heavy -- everyone on camera is a historian. When you see that, you start to realize the true potential of DVD. Film historians everywhere need to push for the use of special editions, so that (not only will they become pop culture icons and talking heads) we'll be able to start presenting these old films in an educational context, that raises the value of these DVDs, and our appreciation of the films themselves. Discs like Frankenstein make me want to see only special editions from now on. And discs like Frankenstein make me fall in love with the movies all over again.

Todd Doogan
todddoogan@thedigitalbits.com




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