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August 13, 2014

Movie Review: I, Frankenstein (2013; Lakeshore Entertainment/Liongate)

...a hypothetical question, if I may: Given the countless examination and variations on authoress Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley's immortal horror classic...the films, the books, even that imaginatively scribed by the feeble, albeit able-minded hand of Shelley, herself...what message, overall, was the original 1818 novel, called "Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus" trying to explore and expound upon?? That there were certain things that man was not meant to know?? That absolute tragedy, turmoil and nightmarish horrors await, whoever dares to emulate the power of God?? That science and technology must evolve, even in the face of the status quo's fear of the unknown & unexplored, and that there will always be the daring and unconventional one, who is bravely, sometimes recklessly willing to take that step into the unknown, no matter what it takes, no matter what the stakes, as well as the results are...and no matter what consequences, nay even what punishment awaits, as the result??...

...of course, you've heard the story before: Dedicated and obsessed scientist, going against the grain of his teachings...and yet, taking those very same teachings, far and beyond what his educators might have imagined...or would not dare to blasphemously consider...aspires to create a being, from the assembled parts of the dead, using nature's own dark forces, chemically and that wrought from the electrically charged heavens. At first, elatedly relishing his success at reanimating the pieces/parts corpse, Victor Frankenstein is quickly repulsed and disgusted at the unbearable ugliness of his soulless creation, and as such, rejects the misshapen creature, and attempts to destroy it. Driven into a forsaken life of wandering solitude, as the result of his ugliness, as well as the rejection by his 'father'...the creature, whose mental and vocal capacities develop quite rapidly, trudges through a solitary life, learning of what it means to be human...learning of how he came to be...feared by all whom he encounters...and very much desiring the luxury of companionship...someone like himself, who will not reject him. Returning to Frankenstein's home, the creature murderously coerces the doctor to repeat his experiment, in an effort to create a female companion for him; when the experiment fails, and the newly born female creature indeed shrieks at the very sight of her inhuman predecessor, the monster is once again forced into isolation, filled with rage. However, Victor Frankenstein...now in the throes of personal tragedy and emotional turmoil, as the result of the creatures' murderous effect on his life...relentlessly pursues his creation, with the intent of destroying him, once and for all...


...now, what if the story didn't end, there?? What would the future hold for such a tragic, indestructible, eternally-cursed-to-live being, such as this?? And would Mary Shelly approve of such furthering of her dark tale of terror?? From the producers of the 'Underworld' film franchise (...and those who might have already been privy of the trailer...uh, is that really necessary to mention??), comes a rather unique and interesting, if not measurably derivative twist to the Frankenstein mythos...
...in bittersweet mourning, the restless, powerful and nameless creature...assembled and wrought by the skilled hands of Victor Frankenstein...carries the dead carcass of his creator...who's weaken, mortal body has finally succumbed to the unbearable cold of the region...to a local Arctic churchyard, and proceeds to bury him in an unmarked grave. The deathly interment is abruptly interrupted, when the creature is first attacked by hellish demons, and then rescued by cloaked and winged apparitions, who discover Victor Frankenstein's diary, and conclude that the powerful and monstrous being before them, is the long-since rumored 'man', created by Dr. Frankenstein...
...escorted to an underworld of nameless cathedrals, and brought before his rescuer's 'queen', the creature...now dubbed 'Adam'...is informed that he is in the midst of a race of misfit, albeit highly skilled and deadly gargoyles...created by the legendary archangel Michael, to hold protective vigilance over the human race, from the unrelenting dark forces, spat up from a hellish domain. Offered a position to fight along side the gargoyle army, against the demons plaguing the humans, who are now clearly drawn towards Adam, and his unearthly immortality, Adam balks at the offer...and instead, forcibly arms himself with gargoyle-wielded, hand-held weapons of death, which he uses as self-protection against a never-ending onslaught of demons, hell-bent upon his capture, or destruction...as he heads off alone, into the night, and across the ever-passing years...
...even with the passing of two centuries, Adam finds very little rest, though still manages to hold his own, in constantly being on his guard, as the demons relentlessly pursue him, with the intent of finding out his secret to immortality. One such encounter, in a modern-day nightclub doesn't bode very well for Adam, as it results in the mortal death of a local police officer; brought back to the gargoyle queen, to justify and answer up for the unfortunate human death, proposed punishment is usurped by the sudden attack on the cathedral, by a cadre of demon warriors, which culminates in the 'ascending' deaths of many gargoyles, as well as the capture of the queen. Bargaining for the queen's life, a desperate deal is struck with the demons...the queen's freedom, for the diary of Dr. Frankenstein...
...tracking where the diary goes, Adam is drawn towards the Wessex Institute...a respected business facility, which harbors a most unholy secret. The owner and proprietor of the facility, Charles Essex, reveals himself to be the lead hierarchy of demons, Prince Naberius...and his diabolical intent?? To secure the secret of Adam's power and immortality, so that he can build an army of re-animated immortals, to conquer the world...the bodies of which can be possessed by the demonic fellowship, under his rule...
...like, whoa!! Think about it; for it's time, Mary Shelley's original novel, "Frankenstein" caused quite a stir, even before it was published. Reportedly, the editors and publishers, at the time, didn't even want to consider something so daring, controversial and bigger-than life. And yet, as 'big as life' as her soon-to-be horror classic was, Mary was supposedly known to take things in stride, in the midst of such obstacles...preferring to cite more emphasis on her story's moral message, rather than the story's 'heinous and blasphemous' events, and the characters that usher those events out. In fact, this viewer cannot help but amusingly recall a depiction of such '...tsk, ah well' reaction of the character, in the epilogue of the 1935 Universal horror classic, "Bride of Frankenstein", as Mary Shelley...spritefully portrayed by a young Elsa Lanchester...recalls her tale of horror, in the company of beau Percy Shelley, and poet Lord Byron...a devilishly impish little giggle in her voice, as she spoke. Can one possibly imagine what she would think of how so much more 'bigger-than-life', in which "I, Frankenstein" takes her story, what with the demons and the gargoyles?? One might suggest that even she would swoon at such unthinkable outrageousness (..."...ohhhh Percy!! I'm gonna faint...catch me!!)...
...seriously, though...the Frankenstein Monster, re-imagined as a sort of dark, gothic anti-hero superhero type...resigning himself towards defending and protecting the very humanity, which has rejected him, and sought to destroy him?? How familiar is that?? Technically, the Adam character here, could be seen as sticking his big toe, indelibly in 'X-Men' territory, right?? Nah, we don't have to go that far; however, it does seem perfectly clear where Lionsgate is taking this concept...itself, based upon a graphic comic book novel...considering that the prolifically driven creative forces behind "I, Frankenstein", also concocted the successful "Underworld" franchise. In fact, word has it, from reliable sources, that eventually, a crossover between both the "Underworld"...uh, world, and the newly instilled Frankenstein themed concept may well happen...uh, ironically beating Universal Studios to the punch, in a way, as evident of their recent plans to unravel a shared universe...very much as Marvel has done with their superhero franchises...but with the classic and legendary Universal monsters...
...as much as actor Aaron Eckhart able-bodily carries out the legendary role as the lonely and rejected Frankenstein Monster, his performance, visually, is somewhat surprising; after all, Eckhart's last tete-a-tete in the extensive make-up chair, as most may well recall, was the grotesquely scarred...physically and mentally...Two-Face, from 2008's celebrated and critically acclaimed "The Dark Knight". And as much as author Mary Shelley's literary horror creature reads as quite equally grotesque, Eckhart's visual take on the Monster, is surprisingly good-looking, for the most part, give or take the wayward facial scars...even sexy, in a weird way, in specific scenes where he's engaging personal banter with actress Yvonne Strahovski as Terra, a young, attractive and dedicated, though somewhat na├»ve scientist, who is under the employ of the Charles Essex character...little realizing the true & underliningly diabolical identity of her superior, and the world-conquering plans, which she has unwittingly become a part of, in her deep fascination and impromptu association with Adam...
...veteran actor Bill Nighy, also a carry-over from the 'Underworld' franchise, is adequately formidable, yet ultimately negligible and derivative of similar villainous characters, with his performance as demonic megalomaniac Charles Essex, aka Prince Naberius. Equally ill-used is actress Miranda Otto, though one cannot help but hope that her regal character of Leonore, the gargoyle 'queen'...her ascension to such a position...might be further explored, should a proposed follow-up, or the more suggested cross-over into 'Underworld' territory, come to pass. One of the more interesting characters, which despite a respectable presence in these macabre proceedings, also suffers from a measure of ill-use, is Leonore's right-hand gargoyle warrior, Gideon, as portrayed by actor Jai Courtney (...of "Spartacus: Blood and Sand", 2013's "A Good Day to Die Hard", where he played John McClane's globe-trotting spy son...and will soon grace the screen as Kyle Reese, in the upcoming 'Terminator' entry, "Genesys"); Courtney's 'Gideon' seems to exude the sense of untrusting, albeit honorable and righteous 'misfit', especially towards the notorious, man-made outcast, Adam; and yet, in the course of their character engagement, Gideon comes to realize that there's a lot more to Adam, than meets the eye...something equally respectable and honorable, yet inertly torturous...and a measure of humanity, amidst a human world, which fears him, and has shut him out...
...as might be expected for a film of it's type, the overall tone of "I, Frankenstein" is quite dark, with perhaps a faint echo of smirk-inducing camp...a surprising change of pace for first-time director Stuart Beattie, who previous had exercised an abundance of tongue-in-cheek, having written some rather wonderfully hapless and whimsical characters, in the 'Pirates of the Caribbean' film franchise. However, once again for a film of it's type, there's little to appreciate, as far as genuine horror (...hey, we talking Frankenstein's Monster, here, right??), and it's the fantasy, action dynamics and science fiction elements that take precedence, herein. As exceptional as the special effects are, here, the CGI does get somewhat overwhelming, and as a result, the motif seems overly slick, and measurably cartoonish, in a gothic-flavored graphic novel sort of way...not surprising, actually, considering that the story and concept for this gothic tale, originated from one such graphic novel...
..."I, Frankenstein"...Would Mary Shelley have approved of this offbeat, left-field direction, which the filmmakers have taken her soulless, immortal creature, born of reckless science?? Although the fantastic, macabre and supernatural events, depicted herein, most assuredly takes the famed authoress' concept way, way, way beyond the moral remplifications and dangerous scientific arrogance, which she was trying to reflect upon...eh, this viewer thinks that she'd be intrigued...breathless, to be sure, but yeah, definitely intrigued. For the rest of us...yes, an intriguing and visually baiting bit of diversion; just don't expect much, substance-wise...

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