by Nico Marrone
There are few more instantly recognisable figures in Hollywood than Frankenstein’s Creature. It is undoubtedly the ultimate movie monster and it is hard to think of a world in which Mary Shelley’s “hideous progeny” has never haunted the mind of at least one hapless individual. As such, everyone will have one defining image of The Creature in their minds; be it Boris Karloff’s, almost child-like, portrayal way back in 1931, Shuler Hensley’s damaged depiction in Van Helsing or Aaron Eckhart’s blade-wielding badass in I, Frankenstein [shudders].
There have been numerous adaptations of Shelley’s classic tale over the years and in many ways both this fact, and The Creature itself, are the perfect metaphor for Hollywood’s current business model. Either resurrect a long dead film and its consequent franchise (a la Robocop, Ghostbusters and Jurassic Park) or keep forcefully galvanising existing series in order to keep churning out more and more films (one needs look no further than the frankly ridiculous amount of Paranormal Activity sequels). The end result for both usually means that a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ is lost in the process, making the end result appear somewhat soulless and far cry from the beloved original.
The metaphor comes full circle as that is exactly what happened with I, Frankenstein [shudders again] and is very likely to be what will transpire again next week when Victor Frankenstein is unleashed upon the unsuspecting public. Certainly, it appears to offer a slight twist in the myth focusing, as the name suggests, on Victor Frankenstein as viewed from the perspective of his assistant, Igor (played by James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe respectively), their struggle to bring the dead back to life and the subsequent fallout from such meddling with the forces of nature.
Sure, it sounds half-decent – it has a reasonably strong cast and the film is even going as far as to convey Frankenstein himself as something of a Holmesian sociopath, with Igor being just another victim of his machinations.
That’s certainly an improvement on Kenneth Branagh’s portrayal of the character in 1994 which was far too lenient making him appear to be the true victim, but it’s simply not enough. Part of the problem seems to be that The Creature in this latest iteration seems more like a zombie from 28 Days Later than a living being. Any student of Literature can tell you that one of the greatest themes of Shelley’s original text is the question of nature vs nurture, but this has been foregone in favour of a seemingly bro-mantic Creature-Feature in order to imply some semblance of originality.
No matter what alternate angle is taken, the core remains the same and as such it will always be judged against that which has come before. As bad as some versions may have been there is still excellence to be found; both in the past, through the aforementioned Boris Karloff portrayal and the incredible parody in Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein which followed; as well as more recently on television in Penny Dreadful. As a huge fan of the original book, I can safely state that the characterisation of Frankenstein and his Creature by Harry Treadaway and Rory Kinnear in this television series is the greatest thus far.
The complexities of the two characters are handled excellently with both appearing to be equally tragic as well as downright awful. Many may cite Danny Boyle’s stage adaptation featuring Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller as the definitive adaptation, and it was certainly monumental, however Penny Dreadful’s multifaceted approach to these characters through its serialised format leaps ahead any other depiction and the closest to Shelley’s work by far. This is something that has been missing from other adaptations in the film industry and is what allows this version to stand head and shoulders above the rest.
Unfortunately, this kind of characterisation is unlikely to transition into film anytime soon. What the majority of people want in a television series is greatly different to what they want from a film. Furthermore, Hollywood knows what is most likely to sell, and so desperately keeps attempting to rework the classic formula into something new and original that will keep luring the crowds back for more, often at the cost of the film itself.
What’s evident though is that Frankenstein’s monster is going the way of the vampire within Hollywood cinema – which is a tragedy. We’re oversaturated with all forms of media and sadly there’s only so much one can take. So I leave this with a simple plea to Hollywood. Please, put down the electric rods, step away from the operating table and just let both the Creature and the franchise remain dead for good this time.
Image: Universal Studios; Wikimedia Commons