Monday, February 3, 2014

It Came From The Cineplex: I, Frankenstein

I, Frankenstein was directed by Stuart Beattie and written by Kevin Grevioux. Beattie is primarily a screen writer, having co-written the scripts for 30 Days Of Night and G.I. Joe: The Rise Of CobraGrevioux created the concept for Underworld, and played the part of Raze in the first two films of the series. I, Frankenstein is based on Grevioux's graphic novel of the same name. 

By the way, Kevin Grevioux has a small part in the film, as Dekar, Naberius' head of security and right hand man, er, demon.

I, Frankenstein has a very similar look and feel to the Underworld films, which I guess is not surprising given Kevin Grevioux's involvement in both. Fortunately this new film is much more coherent. I was not a fan of the Underworld series as I couldn't make much sense of its muddled and impenetrable mythology.

The film has been almost universally pummeled by critics, which seems kind of like schoolyard bullies beating up the class nerd. It's a Frankenstein movie, for poop's sake. What were they expecting, Shakespeare? For the record, I liked the film quite a bit. Of course it's not high art, but it entertained me for an hour and a half, and in the end isn't that a movie's job?

Of course every time I enjoy a film it's automatically doomed it at the box office. Happens every time, and this is no exception. After two weeks in theaters the film's grossed an anemic $14 million against a $65 million budget. Sorry I liked your film, producers of I, Frankenstein!


The Plot:

The film opens two hundred years ago as Dr. Frankenstein dies in the Arctic while pursuing his monstrous creation. The Monster (Aaron Eckhart) carries Frankenstein's body back to his ancestral home for a proper burial. While there, he's attacked by Demons before easily defeating them. 

Two Gargoyles observe the altercation and are shocked, as it's the first time a human has ever killed a Demon. They invite the Monster to join their secret war against the Demons to ensure the safety of humanity. The Monster declines.

In the present day the Monster is still alive and kicking and still killing Demons whenever he can. During a fight with a Demon he accidentally causes a human's death. The Queen of the Gargoyles (Miranda Otto) summons the Monster to their headquarters. There she explains that the Gargoyles were created by the archangel Michael to protect humanity from the Demons. She names the Monster "Adam" and urges him to join their cause.

Once again Adam refuses. Adam then meets and is befriended by a human scientist named Terra. When Terra is captured and threatened by head Demon Naberius (Bill Nighy), Adam finally joins the Gargoyles. He then fights alongside them in order to defeat the Demons once and for all, save humanity and maybe even discover if he has a human soul.

• Once again a film is allegedly based on a graphic novel I've never heard of. I've been both a fan and collector of comics for decades, so this puzzles me. The same thing happened with Men In Black, Cowboys And Aliens, Red, The Losers and R.I.P.D. Why have I never seen any of these comics? Where is this magical store that sells all these books?

• The Frankenstein Monster has generally been portrayed two ways in film. There's the "Beautiful Creature" version, in which the Monster is physically perfect with an angelic countenance, and then there's the "Hideous Abomination" version, in which his appearance repulses and terrifies people.

This film kind of straddles the line. The Monster's got a handsome face and is built like an underwear model, but his body's crisscrossed with a road map of horrific scars.

For the record, the "Hideous Abomination" model is the correct one, as described by Mary Shelley in the original novel:

Shelley described Frankenstein's monster as an 8-foot-tall (2.4 m), hideously ugly creation, with translucent yellowish skin pulled so taut over the body that it "barely disguised the workings of the arteries and muscles underneath"; watery, glowing eyes, flowing black hair, black lips, and prominent white teeth. 
I'll say this for actor Aaron Eckhart-- he's not afraid to ugly up his pretty-boy looks for a role. First Two-Face, and now the Frankenstein Monster.

• The film has a well thought out internal mythology that's cool, consistent and actually makes a certain amount of sense. What a novel idea these days.

• The Gargoyles are certainly an ethnically diverse group, as many appear to be Middle Eastern and Asian. Not that there's anything wrong with that, mind you. It just feels kind of forced to me, like the producers were checking ethnicities off of a list. Welcome to the age of Politically Correct Hollywood Casting.

See, Hollywood believes that if you have an ethnically diverse cast, your film will then appeal to the widest possible audience. I'd like to see if there's any hard evidence to verify that theory. Does any ethnic group really go see a movie just because Gargoyle #6 was played by one of their own? Somehow I doubt it.

This type of casting seems insulting to me. If Hollywood is really concerned about being all-inclusive (instead of just making a buck), why didn't they cast an ethnic actor in the lead role, instead of relegating them to the background characters?

• The Demons, who in reality look like, well, demons, disguise themselves as humans and all dress in contemporary clothing, looking much like Secret Service agents. The Gargoyles can also appear human when they want to, but they all dress like ren-faire rejects. If this is supposed to be a secret war between the two species, why don't the Gargoyles try to blend in a bit better?

• The Gargoyle designs looked a lot like the ones in the Gargoyles cartoon series from the 1990s. A lot. I mean really a lot. So much so that I can't help wondering if whoever designed the look of them in this film was a fan of the cartoon. I guess maybe there's only so many ways you can draw a gargoyle.

• Jai Courtney plays Gideon, the Gargoyle Queen's right hand man, er Gargoyle, and once again I marveled at his enormous head. It's downright distracting, I tell you. Every time he appeared onscreen I couldn't pay attention to his dialog because I was looking at the size of his noggin. 

If you ever read this, Mr. Courtney, please don't break me in half. I'm not mocking you. I sympathize with you. I know all too well what it's like, as I too have a larger than normal head. I'm still trying to find a hat that fits me properly. One size fits all, my ass!

• Whenever a Demon is killed, it disintegrates into a ball of fire that takes a few laps around the room before heading back down to the depths of Hell. When a Gargoyle is killed, they dissolve into an impossibly bright column of blue light that stabs Heavenward. Remember that visual.

At one point Gideon chastises Adam because he killed a Demon in plain sight of humans. He reminds Adam that their war must be kept secret from humanity at all costs.

Then a few minutes later a horde of Demons attack and the Gargoyles defend their headquarters. During this battle hundreds of fireballs swoop through the air and brilliant blue shafts of light shoot skyward, in full view of every human inhabitant of the city. So much for their secret war!

• Dr. Frankenstein's journal plays a big part in the film, as each side tries to possess it and its secrets. The journal is in amazingly good shape for a book that's over 200 years old.

• Missed opportunity: near the end of the film, the Gargoyle Queen's had enough of the Monster's crap and tells her minions to retrieve Frankenstein's journal, and once that's done, destroy him. I was really, really expecting her to then say, "Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed!" but alas, she didn't. 

• The CGI effects looked pretty good throughout the film, until the end. During the state-mandated "everything has to blow up at the end" scenes, the quality of the effects took a definite downward turn (to my eyes at least). I'm wondering if the studio ran out of time and/or money and had to finish quickly, before the effects were perfected?

An action-packed updating of the Frankenstein story that's being unjustly shunned at the box office. I don't know why, as it's probably the best "Frankenstein Teams Up With Gargoyles Against Demons" movie we're likely to ever get. I give it a B-.

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