Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein - Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein( Blu Ray) [Arrow Video - 2022]
Released in the mid 90’s Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is a dramatic and very much period costume focused take on this classic gothic horror tale. It features ornate-to-grimly gothic set design, an impressive cast, and moments of cinematic spectacle- been much more of a formal literary take on the story, with the horror tropes largely reduced to ghoulish asides and more stagey gore. Here from Arrow Video, both in the UK and Stateside, is a new Blu Ray release of the film- featuring a new 4k scan of the picture, a new commentary track, a good selection of interviews, and other extras. The release is also available as an HD Blu Ray version too.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was released in the year 1994- it was the sixth feature film by thespian turned director/ film actor Kenneth Branagh. The film is very much on par with 90’s big-budget takes on horror classics like Bram Stoker's Dracula & Interview With The Vampire, though personally, I feel it lacks the more creepy & dramatically gore set pieces of either film. With the focus been largely on the period drama side of things, with elements of romance layered through.
Before we go on I’ll have to admit when I first saw this film back in the 90s at the cinema- I was less than impressed, at points frankly rather bored by the whole thing. At that point in my film fan journey, I was focused on more formal & gore bound horror- so as you can imagine Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was not going to be my thing. So, when I saw the film was getting this new release- I thought I'd revisit the picture, and while I still can’t say I’m totally sold on this take on the classic gothic horror story- I certainly found more worthy things time around, so I certainly respected what Mr Branagh was doing here.
The film rolls in at the two hours and three minutes mark- and largely it unfolds with a fair amount of pace and flair. We kick off towards the end of the story- as in 1794 we find Captain Walton and his men struggling in the north pole- as the water around their ship has become frozen. Out of the freezing mist comes a wild and bedraggled fir-covered figure- this turns out to be Victor Frankenstein ( Branagh), who seems very fearful of what’s out there. We then flashback to young Victor's charmed childhood- where he’s introduced to Elizbeth, who is an orphan due to all her family dying of scarlet fever. She is taken into the family, becoming Victor's Stepsister. We jump forward some years, and the now grown-up Elizbeth(Helena Bonham Carter) and victor have become very close, planning to marry when he comes back from his medical studies.
From here we follow Victor to medical school- where his more out-there/ bizarre medical ideas are met with mockery and condemnation. With only fellow student Henry( Tom Hulce) believing in him. The pair decide to set up a lab at the top of a building- trying to harness lighting for his experiments with stitched together body parts. He sets up a huge steel tank with eels in, places the huge frame of his sewn-together man in, waiting for lighting. It strikes as one eye opens & hand twitches, with Victor then awkwardly straggling the huge naked frame to try & truly bring it to full life. The monster is played by Robert De Niro- who looks rather like a brutish noir-like henchman with a buzz cut, and a scarred face. His playing of the monster/ creature becomes fairly soon quite talky, and philosophical. As we see him chased out by locals, makes friends with a blind old man played by Richard Briers( of classic brit sitcoms The Good Life & Ever Decreasing Circles), and heads off the north pole, etc.
Branagh's take on Victor is very dashing period drama meets action man, and at several points, he’s stripped to the waist showing off his six-pack. Otherwise, the film is full of big names like Ian Holm as Victor's doctor's father, John Cleese is playing it straight as Professor Waldman, Robert Hardy as Victor’s doubting lecturer.
As I mentioned early the flow of the whole thing is largely pacey- with the action going from soapy & romantic period, dramatic gothic, and few darts into the more ghoulish & stage gore bound- though there is nothing really creepy or terrifying here. The last quarter of the film has some great moments of macabre playfulness, and dramatic tragedy. The problem is most of the film runtime plays like a big-budget costume drama, that’s lined with cinematic set-pieces/ actions moments. So as result I more respected, than wholly enjoy what Branagh was doing with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
Moving onto this new Blu Ray release- and the 4k scan looks wonderful balanced and well defined- really shinning in each of the film's settings. On the extra front, we get a good selection- first off we get a new commentary track from film historians Michael Brooke and Johnny Mains, and this, as you’d expect, it's a very professional/well-researched affair.
They move from talking about the original book's publication, which apparently was ltd to 500 copies. They talk about the 19th-century stage adaptation of the book, and how these altered the story- setting up tropes, like the hunchback assistant which appeared in cinematic versions of the story. They comment/ compare the film and the original book, discussing what Branagh added in/ and his reasons. We get a discussion about Ian Holm- who apparently appeared in early versions of the story, and both how he & Branagh both came from stage backgrounds. They mention that the CGI electricity effect was first used in this film, comment on the pastel colourings on the early sets- and their influences. They talk about Helena Bonham Carter work in period films, and how her role in this film was expanded They discuss the set for Igolstadt, where Victor trains as a Dr- apparently this alone had a budget of three million pounds. They talk about how Mary Shelly gave birth three times, and look at how this may have influenced her writing of the story. Later on they talk about how the creature is humanized in the film and De Niro playing of the role. They discuss why Branagh insisted that the film be made/ filmed in the UK. They talk about Branagh’s sub-plots, and how they alter the original story- and much, much more- certainly a track you could play several times.
Otherwise, we get Mary Shelley and The Creation of a Monster, a nearing half-an-hour featurette on the origins and evolution of the Frankenstein story, featuring Gothic specialists David Pirie, Jonathan Rigby and Stephen Volk. Dissecting Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, a fifteen-minute featurette with David Pirie, Jonathan Rigby and Stephen Volk on the differences between the novel and Kenneth Branagh’s screen adaptation. We get three new on-screen interviews- these run between twelve and fifteen minutes and are with composer Patrick Doyle, costume designer James Acheson, make-up designer Daniel Parke. We have a 2k restoration of the 1910 version of Frankenstein- this was the first onscreen adaptation of the story, and runs just shy of the thirteen-minute mark. The finished release comes presented with illustrated inlay booklet with new writing by Jon Towlson and Amy C. Chambers.
It was good to be able to revisit Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein after all these years, and while I’m still not the biggest fan of the film- I do appreciate/ respected it more than I did back in the day. If I was rating this release purely on the film, I would have marked it as a two- but with the impressive extras-I've pushed my final score for this new Arrow Video release up to three.Roger Batty