Frankenstein Just Wants To Save Her Son!

Frankenstein Box Art

Ever since Boris Karloff donned the flat top and neck bolts in James Whale’s Frankenstein, there have been many attempts to capture the essence of Mary Shelley’s Classic novel.

Jed Mercurio’s 2007 take – available on home video today – updates the story with Dr. Victoria Frankenstein working to develop artificial organic organs for transplants – and driven to push her experiments ever faster when her son becomes deathly ill.

Mercurio’s Frankenstein opens with Frankenstein (Helen McCrory, Penny Dreadful) being taken to task for her hubris just before the colleague who berates her is killed (off scree) in what sounds like a grisly manner. Cut to nine months earlier.

Despite the caution of her colleagues – Professor Waldman (Neil Pearson, Waterloo Road) and Dr. Ed Gore (Benedict Wong, Marco Polo, The Martian) – Frankenstein pushes on with her work because her son, William, is dying.

Aside from moments with William and her ex-husband, Dr. Henry Clerval (James Purefoy, The Following, Hap and Leonard), much of the first half of the movie is a series of long (time-wise) shots of the pensive Dr. Frankenstein staring into the vat (which looks like an old-fashioned iron lung spiffed up) of stem cell materials.

Her boss, Professor Jane Pretorius (Lindsay Duncan, Birdman, The Honourable Woman), initially demands that the work be stopped because of Frankenstein’s stepping beyond established protocol – but keeps the project going after William dies and Frankenstein orders it (called the UX) stopped.

Naturally, things do not go well – though after we reach the scenes that opened the movie, there’s another half-hour to go, and a lot of ways for further hubris to rewarded with dire consequences.

To give Mercurio credit, he does go with something more thoughtful and controversial by having a female Dr. Frankenstein working on stem cell research because it might help her son. Another thing is that Dr. Gore isn’t your average Igor substitute but, rather, a thoughtful, intelligent guy who raises important questions – even if he does go along with Frankenstein in the end.

Duncan’s Pretorius exists as a kind of version The X-Files’ Cancer Man (Cigarette Smoking Man if you must be picky) – she has a nebulous job description and displays a quietly deployed but still immense amount of power.

Purefoy’s Dr. Clerval seems like a very minor character until late in the game – and then he turns out to be more important than we first thought, but not quite important enough to avoid the consequences of some dumb mistakes.

Julian Bleach does a little better than one might expect with his interpretation of the Monster – playing him as a hulking, misshapen three-year old.

There are plenty of references to Whale’s Frankenstein – a new version of the original Creature’s flat top, neck bolts and even a lightning strike among them – but, unlike Whale’s version, Mercurio directs with a staggering lack of pace and a monotonous tone (see: long, pensive shots of Dr. Frankenstein; weather that is always cloudy/rainy/miserable).

There are no poor performances here, but overall, there’s a lot of overt staginess and the pacing is, for the most part, sluggish. On the plus side, the effects are both pretty decent and obviously less than expensive – though the Monster’s make-up is very good; very queasiness-inducing).

Thanks to McCrory, Purefoy and Duncan, Mercurio’s Frankenstein is watchable – worth at least a rental – though probably not an addition to one’s library unless one collects Differing takes on Frankenstein.

There were no bonus features.

Final Grade: C+