Frankenstein. DVD Review


Director: Kevin Conner

Screenplay: Mark Kruger

Starring: Alec Newman, Luke Goss, Julie Delpy, Donald Sutherland, William Hurt

Certificate: 12

Running Time: 168 Mins

Format DVD

Release Date: 13/01/14

Reviewed by Guy Adams

Victor Frankenstein has often found it a thankless task creating life from the dead, almost as much so as filmmakers have found adapting Mary Shelley’s novel to the screen. Like Bram Stoker’s Dracula, both cinema and television history groans under the weight of countless adaptations. Some glorious, others dead and inert. Many actors have wielded a scalpel and a stout spade in an attempt to build a being: Colin Clive, Peter Cushing, Kenneth Branagh, Udo Kier and, of course, John Hart in that most seminal of adaptations, 1973’s BLACKENSTEIN.

Two new Hollywood versions are pending, this year’s I, FRANKENSTEIN (which owes as much to Shelley as TWILIGHT did to Stoker) and a more recognisable version from Paul McGuigan in 2015 with James McAvoy continuing his Guinness World Record attempt to star in All The Films as the graveyard recycler and storm watcher Frankenstein with Daniel Radcliffe as his assistant Igor.

It’s no surprise, therefore, that this Monday sees the rebirth on DVD of an older monster in an attempt to find a new audience, Kevin Conner’s 2004 TV version originally screened in two parts on the Hallmark Channel.

Made ten years after His Royal Highness Kenneth of Brannagh’s cinematic attempt, with Robert De Niro as the misunderstood Man of Many Parts, Conner’s three hour mini-series sticks closely to the original novel. This was perhaps brave, considering the drubbing Branagh’s version got for attempting just that. Janet Maslin, reviewing Branagh’s movie for the New York Times called it “a bland, no-fault Frankenstein for the ’90s, short on villainy but loaded with the tragically misunderstood. Even the Creature, an aesthetically challenged loner with a father who rejected him, would make a dandy guest on any daytime television talk show.” Of course, anyone familiar with the novel would be able to perceive the compliment inherent in such a misguided criticism, Ms. Maslin was rather missing the point.

She would have been bored into a coma by Conner’s version which presents Luke Goss, his career as one half of pop’s singing plastic, Bros thankfully behind him, as “the aesthetically challenged loner with a father who rejected him”. Thankfully, we don’t all share her tastes.

Conner’s version isn’t perfect, the stitching frays in places, but it makes a good fist of it.

Goss is an excellent misunderstood tragedy and Alec Newman a solid Frankenstein. William Hurt wins 2004’s Best American Actor Being Bavarian award and Donald Sutherland is good value as always. Dan Stevens, more familiar to modern audiences — at least those who have finally stopped weeping enough to see — as Downton Abbey’s worst car user, Matthew Crawley, is also pleasant enough as Victor’s childhood friend, Henry.

Elsewhere acting skills are a little more shaky with a line of walk ons who seem to be vying for attention as worst performer. In fairness this inconsistency of quality must have been as irritating to Conner as the viewer, I have a feeling he may have cried when he saw the performance of Man In Graveyard 2. I certainly did.

It’s pacing is also a little off. A number of story elements that could have benefited from expansion (the creature making his way to Frankenstein’s home for example) are glossed over where a few less portentous scenes of a young Victor staring into summer skies and alluding to the horrors to come would have been a blessing.

It’s definitely a TV version (though thankfully light on the usual Hallmark Channel vaseline and whimsy), a little flat in places, but it is an honourable and enjoyable attempt at providing a definitive version of Shelley’s book.

For anyone interested in seeing beyond the — thunderously enjoyable — antics of Hammer and Universal, this DVD release fits the bill.