WORDS James Gracey
Mary Shelley’s haunting classic needs little introduction. Adapted for cinema and television countless times before, Frankenstein is a cornerstone of Gothic literature and a forerunner of science-fiction; its potent themes have ensured its relevance to this day. It tells of a scientist who defies Christian doctrine and plays God by creating life from death. Bloodcurdling consequences befall his loved ones as Shelley weaves together an inescapable sense of dread and a nightmarish atmosphere infused with pointed ponderings on religion, science and morality, and the dark realms where they intertwine.
Adapted as a TV miniseries in 2004, this rather bloodless take opts to focus on the romantic aspects of Shelley’s chilling tale, merely skimming the surface of the story’s rich depth. The pacing is very measured, and while this can usually work in a television adaptation’s favour, giving it time to tell the story, flesh out the characters and establish dynamics, here it only creates tedium. The performances are unremarkable, with only Donald Sutherland and William Hurt, who bring their usual gravitas to proceedings, standing out. They are only secondary characters though, and their appearances are essentially extended cameos. Luke Goss fails to convince as rejected, increasingly volatile Creature, though he manages to inject real menace into the later scenes when he’s carrying out his revenge against the creator who rejected him. With a flair for the theatrical, Goss’s performance is reminiscent of his later appearance in Guillermo del Toro’s Hellboy II; all sweeping gestures and intense facial expressions. Equally unconvincing are Alec Newman and Nicole Lewis as doomed lovers Victor and Elizabeth Frankenstein, as they display no onscreen chemistry whatsoever. Given screenwriter Mark Kruger’s decision to adapt the material as a tragic romance, the central relationship should bolster the narrative and drive the drama. Sadly, it doesn’t. The various confrontations between Frankenstein and his creation should crackle with tension, with the pitiful Creature’s yearning for acceptance becoming more extreme and unhinged as he is cruelly shunned by society. Instead they come across as weak and half-hearted.
While some beautiful locations and photography help establish the period atmosphere, the drama that unfolds within is lacklustre. Director Kevin Connor, whom genre fans may know from his earlier work such as Amicus anthology From Beyond the Grave, The Land that Time Forgot and schlocky backwoods slasher Motel Hell, fails to muster any tension despite the richness of the source material. While its rather bland and family-orientated execution arguably stems from the confines of the medium it was adapted for, the watered-down screenplay is as much to blame, as it not only fails to provide the characters with any depth and the cast with anything meaty to work with, it completely robs the central premise of its vitality. Connor’s uninspiring direction further renders this a dreary adaptation that is as lacking in life as the Creature before the lighting bolt struck.
Frankenstein is available on DVD from 13 January