November 26, 2015
When I saw that they were going to show a film called "Victor Frankenstein" this week, I was puzzled. Why do they keep making movies about Frankenstein and his monster? I bet Mary Shelley never imagined that her book, one of the earliest examples of science fiction, will continually inspire movie makers from the silent era to the present day. Frankenstein films have traditionally been in the horror genre, but there were also those in other genres like comedy and animation. "I, Frankenstein" from the graphic novel of the same title was just last year.
"Victor Frankenstein" is told in the point of view of Frankenstein's aide Igor. He started off as a mousy deformed nameless clown at a circus who had a fascination with human anatomy and the lovely girl on the trapeze, Lorelei. One night, medical student Victor Frankenstein notices the hunchback's uncanny medical knowledge and skill, and spirits him away to be his assistant, giving him the name Igor. Frankenstein would then reveal the experiment we all know him for -- the reanimation of a dead body by the power of electricity. Faced with his master's mad ambition and personal demons, Igor struggles in a dilemma between debt of gratitude and freedom to live his own life.
Visually, this film cannot be faulted. The cinematography was adequately done to achieve the dark and dank gothic mood with its generally muted color palette. The period sets and production design were very meticulous in their authentic-looking messiness in the circus, workshop, hospital and castle. The costumes of Lorelei are the only bright colors we see on screen, symbolizing her positive role in the story.
The special visual effects for the two grotesque Frankenstein monsters when they came to life were very realistically done. The second monster in particular was a nostalgic throwback to the early Frankenstein monster design in the early films with the flat head, visible sutures and screws on the sides of the neck. Of course, the computer-generated effects brought the entire scene alive with electric tension and action. I believe monster fans will not be disappointed with the reanimation scenes.
Having James McAvoy on board as title character Victor Frankenstein gave this mad heretical scientist main character a peculiar charm and goodwill. A reliable actor, McAvoy was able connect with the emotional motivations behind the obsession of the character and convey this with intense conviction.
As Igor, Daniel Radcliffe adds yet another oddball loner character to his post-Harry Potter acting resume. Why his circus colleagues hated him for his medical knowledge was never made clear. It was the brotherly relationship between Igor and Frankenstein that sets this film apart from the other Frankenstein films that came before by giving it an underlying human soul. Interesting to note that the Igor character did not appear in Mary Shelley's novel, and was just an addition in films in the 1930s.
The way Police Inspector Turpin was portrayed by Andrew Scott gave the film a sort of Sherlock Holmes vibe. When I first saw the inspector with this astute deducting skills and sidekick Alistair (Callum Turner) with his bowler hat, I thought they actually had merged Holmes and Watson into this film (they did not). Jessica Brown Findlay as Lorelei was a welcome vision of beauty and grace amidst all the ugly and depraved that dominated the screen. The ever-elegant Charles Dance had a strong cameo as Victor's father.
For me the detail that derailed this film's good intentions was the addition of an effeminately bratty aristocrat Finnegan as Frankenstein's benefactor with evil ulterior motives. As played by actor Freddie Fox, he stuck out like a squeaky white mouse from his very first scene. I thought that his appearance distracted from the proceedings. For me, the presence of Finnegan and his henchmen there helping Frankenstein during his climactic moment of reanimation greatly diluted the drama of that pivotal scene. Nothing rang true about this miscast portrayal.
Overall, "Victor Frankenstein" is not as dreary as you'd initially imagine. Director Paul McGuigan was creative with the technical aspects of the film, though his pacing may drag at certain points. The lead actors did their best with the overwrought material they had. Apart from the Victor-Igor bromance though, there was not really anything more substantial that this film could add to the already overdone Frankenstein legend. 6/10.