Best Movies of All Time + Robert De Niro



Frankenstein is a 1994 dramatic horror film directed by Kenneth Branagh, who also stars as the film's titular character. The film opens on a ship lost at sea as it nears the Arctic Circle. When it strikes an iceberg and runs aground, the ship's crew find a lone figure roaming among the ice. This man claims to be Viktor Frankenstein (Branagh), and he soon recounts the story of his coming to such a place. When he was younger, Viktor suffered the loss of his mother (Cherie Lunghi) and vowed to find a way to keep people alive for eternity. He goes away to school in order to study and develops a working relationship with Professor Waldman (John Cleese) who takes a liking Viktor's enthusiasm. When Waldman is murdered by a passing bum (Robert De Niro), Viktor decides to continue his unfulfilled work of creating life. He steals the corpse of the bum and places Waldman's brain inside of it. Through a sophisticated experiment, Viktor brings the creature to life with dire consequences. He believes it to be dead, but the creature escapes and hides in a countryside cottage. Armed with Viktor's personal journal, the creature learns to read and speak. When it learns that Viktor is responsible for his hideous condition, he vows to exact his revenge.

Branagh's vision of Mary Shelley's novel is not your standard "Frankenstein" fare. I haven't seem much in terms of Branagh's filmography - either acting or directing - but from what I've come to hear, he tends to place his own stamp on the work he adapts. That being said, I'm not quite sure the Frankenstein story was really the best story to try to make his own. For the most part, it sticks with the general story: Frankenstein has a desire to create life; he creates a creature from the parts of corpses; the creature is born and retaliates against its creator. The basic storyline is there. However, one of the biggest parts of the original story is that the creature is accidentally given an abnormal brain, thus leading it to acts of menace and mayhem. In this version, however, the creature is given the mind of an intellectual. Although he seems like nothing more than a brute just after his creation, he quickly learns the ways of men. In a way, Branagh humanizes the creature in very rapid fashion, and I'm not quite sure whether this is a good thing or not. If you look at the original 1931 film, the creature was simply a brute force of nature. It wasn't until the 1935 sequel (Bride of Frankenstein) that the creature began to accumulate a vocabulary and a personality, and the slow progression of character made the transformation more believable. In this version, I just couldn't find a way to believe it. On a separate note, I found the dialogue to be a little mundane and childish, and it's definitely not realistic. I was rolling my eyes at some of the lines.

Because the dialogue was so bad, it's hard to bash the actors entirely. Considering they're working with drivel, you kinda have to give them the benefit of the doubt... to an extent. Branagh hams it up to the best of his ability, delivering a series of over-the-top emotional scenes that really just made me want to laugh at him. That does not bode well for the dramatic lead of any film. Maybe he should've listened to his director's advice a little more often... Wait, nevermind. I forgot. Helena Bonham Carter plays Elizabeth, Viktor's adopted sister and ultimate wife - yes, wife - a relationship that makes for a few awkward scenes of affection. She's probably the most believable character in the film, but even she has a few moments where I was questioning why she chose to act in the way she did. I'd only heard good things about De Niro in the role of the creature, but I couldn't really see just why he'd been given any sort of accolade. He channels Boris Karloff a little bit, but he's nowhere near as good as he was back in the '30s. With the pounds of makeup he had to apply (the film nabbed an Oscar nom for makeup, by the way), there's really no room for De Niro to show any real emotion. It's not his fault. And I couldn't help but hear the De Niro of Scorsese flicks past come out in the creature here and there. I just couldn't get it in my head that De Niro could actually be this monster.

There's also never really a clear sense as to what genre this film actually falls under. You could consider it a dramatic film, but there's also some essences of horror (and the occasional bit of gore). Normally, this wouldn't really pose a problem for me, but with this particular film, I think there needed to be a set direction. They could've gone for the horror - De Niro's creature isn't all that pleasant to look at - and it could have been more effective. Or they could've gone straight drama, making the character development a little more believable. But as it stands now, it's a mix between the two, and Branagh frantically tries to give both genres their equal due within a mere two hours running time. He just throws too much on the screen in too short a time, and it gives the film a very manic and bouncing feel that generates more laughs than concern or fear.

I simply cannot recommend this film and feel okay about telling you to watch it. It's no NetFlix Instant Watch until this Saturday, so if you're lucky enough to have NetFlix and you REALLY want to waste two hours, now would be the time to do so. Otherwise, I'd say you should probably try to avoid this one. I have yet to find anything truly redeeming about it, and I'm not sure whether I'd ever be able to do so.

Movie Review Summary:
Grade: D-
2 Thumbs Down

1994, Cherie Lunghi, drama, Frankenstein, Helena Bonham Carter, horror, John Cleese, Kenneth Branagh, movie review, Oscar nom, and more:

Relevant to: FRANKENSTEIN + Robert De Niro