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CritiqueText • Frankenstein at the movies

Frankenstein, first illustrated editionFrontispiece, first illustrated edition 1831
Publication details ▽ Publication details △

Original title
Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus

First publication

Literary form

Literary, science fiction, horror

Writing language

Author's country

Approx. 78,000 words

I, Frankenstein scene
The flying gargoyles in promotions for I, Frankenstein show how far we've strayed from Mary Shelley's tale.

Underworld Frankenstein

I, Frankenstein (2014): Film, 92 minutes; director Stuart Beattie; writers Beattie, Kevin Grevioux; featuring Aaron Eckhart, Bill Nighy, Yvonne Strahovski, Miranda Otto, Socratis Otto

I, Frankenstein is admittedly not based directly on the Mary Shelley novel, nor even on any of the previous Frankenstein movies. Rather it's adapted from a digital graphic novel that offers itself as a sequel to the famous novel.

Frankenstein's monster has returned to take revenge on its creator by killing the doctor's wife, then tracking the man through frozen wastes to his death, before its burial of Frankenstein is interrupted by a horde of demons who attack it before it's rescued by flying creatures and taken away to be held prisoner in a gigantic cathedral.

Confused yet? This is only the first few minutes of the film. Much more confusion is yet to come.

It turns out the demons are from hell and the flying creatures are gargoyles, those strange carvings decorating the tops of old buildings. As in the Underworld movie series with the vampires and the werewolves at each others throats, I, Frankenstein's two sets of supernatural beings are at war. It even features Underworld's vampyric elder Bill Nighy as leader of one of the otherworldly forces.

The gargoyles are actually here to protect humans from the schemes of demons. The monster tries to keep out of the back-and-forth battles between the two forces, but inevitably gets drawn in to fight on the side of right. I'm not sure why it chooses to fight on the side of humanity—some twaddle about wanting to have a soul or something—but it's only one of many things that don't make sense in this story.

The fight scenes are both the best and worst parts of the movie. They're spectacular in a CGI-overload kind of way but are ultimately time-wasting distractions. You know, none of the great Frankenstein films of the past felt the need to fill the screen with showers of sparks, exploding buildings and beings bursting into flame every few minutes.

As the monster, Aaron Eckhart does his best to pretend he actually knows what's going on amid the chaos.

You might wonder how the lumbering old patched-together creature became such an agile fighter, dispatching by the handful both demons, who disintegrate and presumably descend to the netherworld when killed, and gargoyles, who ascend to the heavens in beams of light. We're obviously a long way from either Mary Shelley's or early Hollywood's work.

The film's worst crime for an old-fashioned Frankenstein fan is taking the story out of the realm of science or science fiction, in which we might imagine the creation of a man is possible, into the fantasy realm of supernatural, quasi-religious creatures without any practical basis in reality. Nothing against fantasy as a genre of its own, but here it overwhelms the Frankenstein mythology. Once we accept that thousands of super-powered creatures from above and below are fighting over the fate of humankind, the moral warning in the story of a lone scientist creating life pales drastically. And placing hopes on that flawed creature to become the decisive factor in saving our world is ludicrous.

Plans were reportedly afoot at one point to merge I, Frankenstein into the Underworld franchise but it never worked out. I, Frankenstein was crucified by critics and underperformed at the box office, as they say.

However, it made almost as much money as the most recent Underworld movie. The difference was that it cost almost twice as much to make, leaving no room for profit. Too much money spent on special effects rather than working out an engaging storyline and characters we can root for?

— Eric


CritiqueText • Frankenstein at the movies

1931, 1935, 1939, 1942–1948, 1957, 1958–1970, 1973–1996, 1994, 2014