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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 4/19/00

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein
1994 (1998) - Columbia TriStar

review by Greg Suarez of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein Film Rating: C+

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

Specs and Features

123 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, full frame (1.33:1), dual-sided, single-layered, 3 theatrical trailers (for Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Awakenings and Much Ado About Nothing), film-themed menu screens, scene access (28 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 & 2.0), Spanish and French (DD 2.0), subtitles: English, Spanish and French, Closed Captioned

"It's alive!"

Director Kenneth Branagh's version of Mary Shelley's 1816 novel Frankenstein is one of the more accurate recreations of the original story, but still artistic freedoms were taken. Like Bram Stoker's 1897 novel Dracula, there have been numerous film versions of Frankenstein over the last century. While Branagh's 1994 version has a certain level of comparative realism and attention to accuracy, it is not without its flaws.

It's 1793 in Ingolstadt, Germany. Victor Frankenstein (Kenneth Branagh) is a headstrong medical student from Geneva, filled with the desire to break away from conventional beliefs and create life from dead tissue. Dismissed as an insane blasphemer by his teachers and colleagues, Victor dedicates his life to his desire and shuts himself off from his family, friends, and fiancée Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter). It goes without saying that Victor is successful in his endeavor, and creates a creature (played by Robert De Niro) hideous in appearance and as mentally adept as a newborn child. Victor is horrified by the being and rejects him. Escaped, and roaming free in the country, the creature is reviled and abused by anyone that witnesses his ghastly visage.

The creature becomes remedially educated and learns the truth of his creation... and his creator. In an attempt to vindicate his existence, the creature confronts Victor and demands that Victor create a female mate in the creature's form, so he can share his emotions and have the warmth and sympathy of another being. If Victor refuses, the creature promises to inflict inhuman pain and agony on him. Dr. Frankenstein must make a choice: create another hideous creature and go through a process that almost killed him the first time, or ignore the creature's demands and hunt him down and kill him.

While Mary Shelley's Frankenstein remains an okay telling of the brilliant and groundbreaking original novel, the dialog is a bit silly and the acting - especially from Branagh - is overdone. De Niro does an admirable job of portraying the human sides of the creature, but the script he is given hinders his attempt somewhat. Still, I do respect the effort by the filmmakers to recreate the novel and interject a bit more hideousness to the task of reanimating a dead body. The creature is a mended hulk, riddled with stitches, patches of rotten skin and uneven features. The process of reanimation was as gruesome as I expect it might be if someone really attempted the task. In most adaptations of Frankenstein, it's a rather clean process and the creature ends up looking less hideous.

The picture quality from this 1.85:1 anamorphic DVD is great overall. The print is smooth and detailed, with a nice color palette. The beautiful and expansive cinematography of the mountains and landscapes comes across very well on this disc. Interior scenes are slightly muddy, with a bit of a reddish hue, and there are very minor amounts of compression artifacting. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio seems to have been recorded at a lower level, and required a slightly higher volume setting than I am normally used to on my system. But the soundtrack is spacious and contains nice levels of ambiance. The score is aggressively spread around the listener, and there are several instances of loud claps of thunder that explode from the surround channels.

Various theatrical trailers are all the extras you'll find on this DVD. While I was not impressed enough with this movie to desire many supplements, I'm sure that there was enough that went into the making of this film to at least warrant a "making-of" documentary, or at the very least, a commentary track with De Niro and Branagh. Maybe some day.

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is a good retelling of the original novel, but a weak script and instances of overacting keep it from being a great film. The audio and video qualities of the disc are fine, but the lack of extras might annoy those who enjoyed this film. As horror films go, it's all right, but nothing that will wake the dead.

Greg Suarez
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