Kenneth Branagh does well with adaptations of William Shakespeare’s work, mostly because he seems to embrace the melodrama of the stories with complete seriousness. This style was ideal for Hamlet and Henry V, but when Branagh attempted to tackle his own recreation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the results were slightly over-the-top. There are a great many moments within the film, but they all seem to come from the simpler and subtle performance by Robert De Niro as Frankenstein’s famous monster. The film surrounding this performance edges on campy, but without any of the self-awareness which may have made it more fun.
The creature played by De Niro emerges from the womb of a lab created by mad scientist Victor Frankenstein (Kenneth Branagh), unable to support himself or speak properly. He is born a complete man, assembled from various parts, but needing to relearn all previously developed abilities. The skills of the men he is assembled with are like a shadow to the creature, re-learning abilities much quicker than any normal human could. Contrary to past film adaptations, the creature in this film is filled with thoughts, questions, and insights. He only becomes a monster when he is unable to feel love due to his monstrous appearance.
Where the film seems to go wrong are the places where Branagh’s personal life interferes. Branagh had wanted to cast his wife, Emma Thompson, in the romantic role of Elizabeth, but she took another project that was better suited. In her place, Branagh cast Helena Bonham Carter, who is spectacular in a brief finale that combines the material from Bride of Frankenstein. At the same time, the romantic entanglement between Elizabeth and Victor is an unsuccessful and distracts from the better aspects of the film. On the other hand, the complicated relationship between Frankenstein and his monster elevates the material in creative new ways.
Although Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is nearly 30 years old, the Ultra HD Blu-ray release from Arrow Films features a 4K restoration from the original camera negatives. Along with a 4K UHD presentation in Dolby Vision, there is uncompressed stereo audio and DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround sound. There are also optional subtitles for the hearing impaired.
The new release of the film includes original newly commissioned artwork from Laz Marquez on a reversible sleeve. The opposite side has the film’s original poster. The disc itself also includes several new special features, as well as the first screen adaptation of Mary Shelley’s novel from 1910. The film’s original theatrical trailers are also included. The new special features consist of the following:
- Brand new audio commentary by film historians Michael Brooke and Johnny Mains
new interview with composer Patrick Doyle
new interview with costumer designer James Acheson
- Brand new interview with make-up designer Daniel Parker
- Mary Shelley and The Creation of a Monster, a brand new documentary 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 brand new featurette with David Pirie, Jonathan Rigby and Stephen Volk on the differences between the novel and Kenneth Branagh’s screen adaptation
Entertainment Value: 7.5/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 7.5/10
Historical Significance: 6.5/10
Special Features: 9/10