“When the brilliant but unorthodox scientist Dr. Victor Frankenstein rejects the artificial man that he has created, the Creature escapes and later swears revenge.”

Director: Kenneth Branagh
Writers: Frank Darabont, Steph Lady, Mary Shelley
Staring: Robert De Niro, Kenneth Branagh, Helena Bonham Carter
Release Date: November 4, 1994

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994) is an attempt at something massive. Based of the classic 1818 Mary Shelley novel, Kenneth Branagh directs and stars in this over-the-top, Broadway-feeling melodrama. Everyone in the movie is talking loudly and there is little to no subtlety in the writing or acting. It is an attempt at something grand, but the huge swings leave use with a soft breeze rather than home runs.

Kenneth Branagh, what a career this man has had. Trained as a stage actor at a young age, it is easy to understand why this story and screenplay tantalized him in the early 90s. We have a monster who is misunderstood and a hero who is driven to madness by his own ambition. It reads out like the Shakespearean play Macbeth combined with the tragic romance of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom Of The Opera.

Branagh has had a mystifying career with some truly ugly lows but also many undeniable highs. He directed and stared in the 1989 Henry V, which was nominated for three Oscars and won one. He has some surprise success like Cinderella (2015), the importance of Thor (2011), and disappointing results of Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014) and Murder On The Orient Express (2017). We won’t talk about Artemis Fowl (2020).

Now Branagh has Belfast (2021) which is a front runner for the 2022 Academy Awards, but in early 2022 he has Death On The Nile (2022) which promises to be the same type of middling as Hercule Poirot’s original venture.

Kenneth Branagh is a fascinating case study. He demands further attention from me.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is an adapted screenplay written in part by three-time Oscar nominee Frank Darabont. In this movie’s interpretation of the Frankenstein story, the story moves quickly between settings and and timeframes. Victor Frankenstein (Kenneth Branagh) is a romantic lover, a frantic student, a scared survivor and a heartbroken husband. The progression between each of these states is rather abrupt.

Branagh works alongside a pair of well known actors, but they are both handicapped by the characters they are portraying.

Helena Bonham Carter plays Elizabeth, the adopted sister of Victor and also, his wife. Yes, that is a real thing. I admit I have never read or listened to the novel, but Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein limits what Carter can do in the role. The character of Elizabeth is often screaming, crying or tormented. It is a lot of acting out and again subtle nuances are not a thing. We know that Bonham Carter can play the loud and brash well, but it is nice to have a balance. It is tough to find that in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Robert De Niro plays the monster in Shelley’s story. This part comes at a time where De Niro is riding high on immense success. He was nominated for an Oscar in 1992 for Cape Fear (1991), and followed it up with A Bronx Tale (1993) before this performance. After Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, De Niro had the Martin Scorsese hit Casino (1995) and then the Michael Mann sensation Heat (1995). Pardon the pun, be De Niro was on a heater, and this was the only tepid movie of that bunch.

One could assume the character of the monster would be the most bombastic of the bunch in Frankenstein’s story, but such is not the case in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. With “the beast” being the most introspective, one would think that De Niro would be able shine with the most interesting part in the story. Let the man act! Sure, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein won the 1995 Oscar for Best Makeup, but the constrictions on De Niro’s face don’t allow for him to emote. The scars are important for his story both in a symbolic and story sense, but they also prevent De Niro from opening up. He has these scenes where he is learning and remembering, but they never have the lasting impact.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein must have been an attempt at Oscar gold when it was released in late 1994. It has stars, it has the budget and it has the massive scope of an adapted epic. The movie only got one nomination and was no competition for the other big heavy hitter of that award season. Ed Wood won for Best Make Up and numerous other awards that year. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is an interesting case state study of adaption and scope. It is a movie that could be shown in an English class in high school and spark conversation about how the director and writers interpreted Shelley’s 19th century work.

My interpretation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as a movie is that it is a swing and a miss in most areas. You have to respect it for taking a chance and trying to be something, but respect is not the same thing as appreciation.

STANKO RATING: D+ (2.0/5 Stars)


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