I was thinking…
…how crucial a release date can be for a film. “Timing,” says journalist Bill Moyers, “is everything in art.” The year, the month and even the day can determine whether a film is a success or a box office failure.
Enter Victor Frankenstein, the latest incarnation of Mary Shelley’s groundbreaking horror/sci-fi novel of 1818.
As I am writing this review in December, that should be the first clue Frankenstein fell victim to bad timing.
With as iconic a tale as that of a mad scientist playing God and creating an unholy abomination, the natural, logical and so-simple-a-child-could-plan-it release time would be in October. Sometime before the Eve of All Hallows.
But when did 20th Century Fox decide to put the story in theaters? Three weeks after Halloween.
Yup, nothing makes us look forward to Thanksgiving turkey carving more than watching James McAvoy (X-Men: Days of Future Past) cut apart human cadavers and sew body parts back together. Yum.
End result: Victor Frankenstein‘s staying power was that of a college freshman at either a frathouse kegger or a brothel. Take your pick.
This is a shame, considering the film was actually quite good and deserved considerably more attention than it garnered.
As seen through the eyes of Igor (Daniel Radcliffe—Harry Potter series, Horns), the movie is as much about the abused erstwhile hunchback as it is about the titular character. Even though Igor is a throwback to the Universal Pictures monster films of the 1930’s and not an original character from Shelley’s work, he plays a prominent and, indeed, central role in the picture.
A circus freak and clown in England, the unnamed and “not-a-true-hunchback” has a talent for art and a penchant for learning the human anatomy. These skills catch the eye of a young medical student named Victor Frankenstein who frees the young man from servitude to make him his assistant in his secret experiments.
Unfortunately, during the fracas resulting from the hunchback’s release, another circus performer is killed–a killing for which the pair is framed.
Bestowing the name of his missing roommate, Igor, upon the hunchback, Frankenstein drains his new friend’s hump and helps him learn to walk upright. Then together they embark upon the first experiments to reanimate dead tissue.
Assigned to track down the “murderers,” meanwhile, is Inspector Turpin (Andrew Scott–Spectre, TV’s Sherlock Holmes), a religious man who does not truly suspect Frankenstein of murder, but rather of committing unholy work in his dungeon laboratory. Pursued by the law, Igor struggles with his own conscience as Frankenstein begins to succumb to his own hubris and madness.
Although the film was clearly an effort to raise a new movie tentpole for Fox, there are a slew of reasons this movie should have been given a better chance.
Most notably, the acting was top-notch. Both McAvoy and Radcliffe do a superb job in their respective roles. Radcliffe has grown in skill since his donning of Harry’s glasses and lightning bolt scar, and McAvoy has availed himself well in every role in which I have seen him. Frankenstein’s arrogant, agnostic, persecuted persona lashes out in a convincing, spittle-flying portrayal, while Radcliffe encapsulates an ambivalent, conscience-stricken genius in his own right.
Taking the liberty of setting the story mainly in London, the feeling is decidedly dark and still very appropriate for the story. The costuming also fits the era of the Georgian Kings reign so very well. If for no other reason, the film provides a sumptuous meal visually.
It did, however, feel as if the producers were attempting to do for Frankenstein what Guy Ritchie has done for Sherlock Holmes. This is evident as this was as much an attempt at a period piece action film as a horror story. Unfortunately, there are times it feels like it’s trying to fit too many genres at once and, as a result, the overall feeling suffers.
Make no mistake, as origin stories go–and this is undoubtedly meant to be one–it makes a better than fair go of it. But if you’re hoping for the storyline from the book or the most-accurate-to-date Kenneth Branagh-helmed version of 1994, you will disappointed. That story was clearly meant for follow-up pieces to this picture; unfortunately, due to the bad timing of its release and the subsequent lackluster box office receipts, it seems unlikely this dead creature will be brought back to life.
Ammo Dump rating: 7 out of 10 lightning bolts
I’ll talk more about this film and others during my (every once in a while) radio show. Listen in on WJBC-AM1230 in Central Illinois. For the rest of the world, listen on @ALphaEXray to find out when I’ll be on the air.. And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter
Run time: 110 minutes