In I, Frankenstein, director Stuart Beattie certainly takes an interesting approach to his interpretation of Mary Shelley’s legendary novel, but presentation sadly fails to live up to the ideal. His attempt to develop Frankenstein’s pivotal religious motif by personifying Christianity in a gargoyle’s figure is creative yet unprovocative, and Bill Nighy’s portrayal of the cold, soulless devil Naberius is impressively frightening, but when the film drops his human features in favour of a more hellish visage, it all comes off as rather silly. The actor’s performance is not to blame; the flaw was in computer-generated masks that resemble awkward aliens instead of horrifying devils.
The only truly dynamic aspects in I, Frankenstein are the graphic battles between the Divine and Satanic forces which dominate the film. Explosions of smoke and fire from the destroyed demons contrast well with the tender blue light that extends from the gargoyles. However, the story’s content does not match with these powerful scenes of violent turbulence. There is absolutely no tension—either between the characters, or within the plot—with which to drive the action. Aaron Eckhart’s rather cynical portrayal of Adam Frankenstein does manage to cohere with his character’s monstrous self-image, yet lacks the drama that would have made it fun to watch on screen. The monster’s alleged tragedy is underdeveloped, and remains ambiguous even by the end of the film. Furthermore, the role of his female companion, Terra—a talented physiologist whose experiments are meant to correlate with the 19th century fiction—lacks clarity. There seemed to be some suggestion of Adam’s fondness for Terra, yet this extended only to the point where he was prepared to save her from the threatening demons. Although at the end of the film Adam explicitly states that he found his calling as the defender of humanity, it is only the statement itself which makes the audience more or less aware of the film’s implicit meaning. The role of Adam and, indeed, of all the various creatures, is ill-defined to the point where the audience simply cannot recognize their genuine purpose, and by extension the overall point of the film.
Despite numerous allusions to religion and creation, the film’s parallel to Shelley’s novel is rather vague. There is only brief background information on Victor Frankenstein’s role in his creation’s existence, meaning that we are given little context to justify Adam’s suffering. Perhaps Stuart Beattie assumed that viewers were already familiar with the original story and decided to make I Frankenstein its own masterpiece, retaining only the novel’s central ideas and the protagonist. Unfortunately, the movie neither stands on its own as a complete story, nor functions as a coherent continuation of Shelley’s novel. This ambivalence is unfortunate, since I, Frankenstein implies pivotal messages beyond the vigorous action scenes, yet fails to actually display them on the screen.
Contributed by Lola Borissenko