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review added: 6/8/99



Gods and Monsters
Collector's Edition - 1998 (1999) - Universal Studios

review by Todd Doogan, special to The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Gods and Monsters: Collector's Edition Film Ratings: B+

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

Specs and Features

106 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch in chapter 10, at 44:53), 16x9 enhanced, Amaray keep case packaging, commentary track with director Bill Condon, The World Of Gods And Monsters: A Journey with James Whale documentary narrated by producer Clive Barker, theatrical trailer, production notes, cast and crew bios, separate web access for Universal and Gods And Monsters, film-themed menu screens, scene access (18 chapters), languages: English (DD 3.0 surround), subtitles: English, Close Captioned


James Whale is one of the greatest filmmakers of the 20th Century. Of course, after seeing Gods and Monsters, what everyone will also know, is that he was one of the first openly gay personalities in Hollywood, he was an incredible wit, and he was a talented artist as well. But if you break it all down, to its simplest state, Whale gave us a grand selection of films that stood the tests of time, and still represent some of the best Hollywood has ever made.

I've always looked at artists as artists, and didn't hold much regard for the person. It's too easy to dislike someone for things you didn't know about them, that you might not agree with. But if you base your impressions of a person strictly on their work, you can't always find the depth of their being. Artists like Picasso and Klimt were not very likable as people. They both seemed to hold women in little regard other than as objects, for example. But if you really look at their work, knowing this, you can see the true feelings of these men -- they loved the women they painted. That's why I always end up learning a little about who the artists were, even though I try to not study their lives in depth. Knowing a little bit about the artists themselves, can actually improve your appreciation of their work, as long as you don't turn your back on the art if you find out things about the person that you don't like.

I point all this out, because Gods and Monsters isn't a film about the man who gave us Bride Of Frankenstein. Gods and Monsters is a film about a man, at the end of a very bright life. The James Whale we see here is broken, not spiritually, not mentally, but emotionally. In the tradition of Ernest Hemingway, who took his life because he could no longer do the things he loved about life (namely Fighting, Fishing and F**king - his three F's), James Whale didn't want to loose his mind. In the last months of his life, Whale suffered a series of damaging strokes, and he was intelligent enough to notice that his memories were pouring out of him like a flood. He was watching his mind leave his body and he wouldn't allow that. Whale left this Earth in a way very much a part of him -- curiously. He was found floating in his pool, wearing his favorite suit, and he had left a note behind that said very little... outside of, "had fun, gotta go". For years, people thought something bad happened, based on the whispers of his homosexuality. The word was, he had probably pissed off a young lover, who took his life. Possibly, but not likely. James Whale simply checked out before his mind did it for him.

Gods And Monsters is a really beautiful character study, although I enjoyed the book it was based on (Father Of Frankenstein by Chris Bram) much more. Ian McKellan IS James Whale. That guy could play a Cracker Jack box and I'd pay to see it. I truly think that the movie is worth seeing simply for him. The film also features Brendan Fraser as Clay Boone, a fictional character in Whale's life who, despite his lack of poetic knowledge, understands Whale, even if he can't exactly put his finger of why. Fraser comes into his own with this film, showing a side we haven't seen since School Ties. He is a talented actor -- even if he's always playing fish out of water guys. The two actors work off each other beautifully, with McKellen perfectly playing the seminal director, manipulating everyone on his life's stage to do exactly what he wants them to do. Another great performance is that of Lynn Redgrave, who does a super job as Whale's housekeeper Hannah. She's dry, she's mean and she deeply loves Whale (but not in that way).

Gods And Monsters follows the fictional last days of Whale as he meets Boone and starts to slowly realize that he's loosing it. Whale wants to die, and in a way, this film is about his plan to use Boone's homophobia to kill himself. If he can manipulate Boone just right, the big oaf might just do him in and end his pain. It's not a perfect film, but McKellen is a perfect actor, and he was robed by not getting the Best Actor award at the 1998 Oscars.

The Gods And Monsters: Collector's Edition DVD is a nice one. As everyone knows, Universal makes some great discs and this is one of their better ones. There's a well thought out commentary track featuring Bill Condon, who talks very nervously about the film. He lets loose a load about the history of the film, and about Whale, and he also talks about Fraser's contributions to the film, which surprised me. He certainly enjoyed all the people he worked with, and I wouldn't be surprised if Fraser and Condon pull a DeNiro/Scorsese and start working together on a regular basis. The disc is 16x9 enhanced and RSDL dual layered, so expect a wonderful transfer. The colors are bright, the blacks are deep and Stephen Katz' use of light and shadow is beautifully captured. Sound quality is fine in Dolby Surround - it's not a very expressive sound field, outside of a few scenes, but this is a character study, so that's to be expected.

Extras include a nice long documentary about the making of the film, put together by David J. Skal, a leading genre historian. Skal knows his horror, with such books as Screams Of Reason: Mad Science and Modern Culture, Dark Carnival (about director Tod Browing), and The Monster Show under his belt (I think he also wrote the A&E Biographies of Karloff, Lugosi and Lon Chaney, Jr.). The documentary flits in and out of the life of Whale, and the making of the film, very well. Narrated by Clive Barker (another openly gay artist/filmmaker) it's a great documentary, and a great addition to this disc. Included also are the trailer, production notes, cast and crew bios, and the Universal web links.

Gods And Monsters deserves all the praise it receives. Whale was a brilliant and fascinating man, and I think Whale would have been proud to see this film. I have to believe that, in some mad scientist's lab in the sky, Whale is smiling down. The artist is remembered, his work lives on, and the monster he gave life to will never die.

Todd Doogan
todddoogan@thedigitalbits.com




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