The upcoming Victor Frankenstein is described as a horror film based on contemporary adaptations of Mary Shelley's classic gothic/sci-fi novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. Written by Max Landis, (Chronicle and American Ultra) and directed by Paul McGuigan (Sherlock and Push) it's got a pretty strong cast, composed of British actors known for stage and period pieces:
- Daniel Radcliffe - Igor
- James McAvoy - Dr. Victor Frankenstein
- Jessica Brown Findlay - Lorelei
- Andrew Scott - Roderick Turpin
- Charles Dance
- Mark Gatiss - Dettweiler
- Callum Turner - Alistair
- Noah Emmerich
- Daniel Mays - Barnaby
Because of this strong backbone I was quite looking forward to it, then I saw the trailer:
Numerous critics have described the look of the trailer as taking a leaf from Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes feature adaptations - glossing over the somber, philosophical tones of the source material in favour of snappy dialogue, 'edgy' twists and explosions.
Whilst this approach worked for Sherlock Holmes, despite the strong cast, I'm not really impressed by the Victor Frankenstein trailer. Hollywood has become increasingly boring and formulaic, and we have to wonder when the levee on rehashed "modern" versions of stories that we've been telling for hundreds of years will break. The faux-edgy adaptations just keep coming, despite the fact that they usually fail. It's a weird dynamic we've gotten into.
Told from the perspective of Frankenstein's assistant Igor, the new reimagining charts Igor's origins, his friendship with the young medical student and his descent into madness as he obsessively pursues his goal: being able to create life. However, their experiments land them in trouble with the authorities and a shady looking dude (Callum Turner's Alistair) who wishes to use their technology to create an "un-killable army, one million strong". Uh-oh - plot twist!
"It's about their journey and how [Igor and Frankenstein] spur each other on towards greater and possibly more terrifying things." - Radcliffe
Victor Frankenstein is told from the perspective of Igor - an often used stock assistant character from classic horror movies. The way they've adapted his character is quite interesting I will admit, from the trailer and what Daniel Radcliffe has said in interviews we know that Frankenstein finds Igor as a crippled man working at a circus where he is treated cruelly. Frankenstein takes him on as his assistant and heals him of his crippling deformities, in a pretty painful looking scene which Radcliffe said left him bruised from filming.
Though Igor doesn't appear in the novel, it's nice that they've taken a secondary stock archetype and given him autonomy and definition as a character. So that's one good thing to take away from it.
"Victor Frankenstein is the original mad scientist as conceived by Mary Shelley. And as re-conceived by Max Landis and Paul McGuigan and myself. It's quite fun. You are playing the original crazy, dark-type mad scientist." - McAvoy
James McAvoy is great at playing mentally unbalanced characters (go watch Filth if you're not sure what I'm taking about) so he does seem a good choice to portray Frankenstein here. I don't really have an issue with him or the way he plays the character - though he's a bit more dramatic and erratic than I might have imagined, there's no reason his character can't work.
"[Victor Frankenstein] is a very new twist on a, kind of a, legendary tale." - Radcliffe.
Yep, there it is. The problem is trying to put "new twists" on old stories often undermines the very meaning of the original. You'd be better off attempting to do something original in the vein of the source material than simply borrowing the title and premise and fucking about with it.
I, Frankenstein is a perfect example of this - based on a graphic novel based on Frankenstein, it's an utterly forgettable film. Even the inclusion of Aaron Eckhart in the lead role couldn't convince me to sit through more than the first twenty minutes of it. The reanimated monkey monsters we see in the Victor Frankenstein trailer recall the 'demonic' twist I, Frankenstein took, and we all saw how that worked out.
I know it's boring when people hark on about differences between source material and adapted media, but it is kinda important here. The original is an analogy about obsession, told parallel with the tale of Captain Robert Walton and his suicidal quest to reach the North Pole. In the book Frankenstein and his monster are thematically the same, so describing the monster in pop culture as 'Frankenstein' actually isn't all that incorrect.
The point that Victor Frankenstein looks to be missing is that the "monster" was created by Frankenstein not just in body, but it mind. It's not inherently evil or bad; it's the actions of Frankenstein after the creature's birth that turns it into a monster, not necessarily the physical process of giving it life to begin with.
Rejected because he's physically deformed, the monster of the novels is both terrifying and eloquent. At a point it calls itself a "fallen angel", made that way by the rejection and neglect suffered at the hands of it's father - Victor Frankenstein. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, though it received mixed reception and is a little on the dramatically campy side, may be the best modern cinematic adaptation of the tale so far and that's largely because it actually sticks more or less to the books.
I know, I know. It is unfair to judge entirely based on trailers, so I guess we'll have to wait till we see the final piece. Perhaps it will surprise me. In the end I think Frankenstein may possibly be one of those stories that is best kept in the pages of books though, but I guess we'll have to wait and see what happens when Victor Frankenstein releases on November 25th.