When did movies start becoming this random mishmash of pre-existing elements, tossed in a blender and poured into well-worn formula? Writer-director Stuart Beattie’s I, Frankenstein details how Frankenstein’s Monster gets caught up in the age-old conflict between gargoyles and demons. “From the producers of Underworld,” the promotional material proudly states. Uh-huh.
Gargoyles and demons and Frankenstein’s Monster. The film had lost me before I walked into the theater. But credit where credit is due: I, Frankenstein moves fast, has an appropriately dark tone, and takes itself seriously enough that we may have some fun at its expense. Watching characters spout all this nonsense about is bound to elicit laughs, and I, Frankenstein frequently threatens to become so-bad-it’s-good.
And the practical f/x work is terrific. There’s a great deal of computer-generated stuff in here, too, but those goofball demon masks – the kind of thing you’d see on the cover of Fangoria in the 80s – they just look great, in an awesomely awful kind of way.
The rest of the film… well, you know what you’re getting into before you walk into the cinema.
Aaron Eckhart stars as the Monster, who comes straight from the pages of GQ. Awesomely buff, with chiseled features, a rock hard six pack, and patchwork stitches that only enhance his tough guy appeal, he’s not exactly Boris Karloff in the role. Still, I was happy to see an intelligent Monster here, though I’m not so sure this was what Mary Shelley had in mind.
Speaking of the original novel, I was shocked to see the film present an almost faithful backstory. No, really: it picks up right where the novel left off, with Frankenstein (Aden Young) tracking the Monster to the North Pole and dying in pursuit.
The Monster, now remorseful, buries his creator’s remains. And then, out of nowhere, he’s ambushed by demons. He fends them off with the help of two friendly gargoyles, who also show up out of nowhere, and then take him back to meet the gargoyle queen (Miranda Otto). She names the Monster “Adam” (groan), and 10 minutes in, I, Frankenstein has lived up to my expectations.
Now, I say demons and gargoyles, but they’re all just regular-looking dudes most of the time: the “gargoyles” are dressed up like angels, and then they morph into CGI stone creatures, occasionally. For some reason. The “demons” only bust out those spectacular masks when they really want to really strike fear in the heart of our hero.
In any event, Adam declines to take part in the great gargoyle-demon conflict, and goes on a personal journey for oh, say, 200 years, which conveniently brings us up to the present day. Now Adam wants in, as evil demon lord Naberius (Bill Nighy) attempts to raise the dead and take over the world (or something like that) with the help of a beautiful scientist played by Yvonne Strahovski. The film gets thisclose to a Frankenstein’s Monster sex scene, but chickens out at the last moment.
I, Frankenstein – based on a comic book by Kevin Grevioux, who also wrote Underworld and stars as one of the head demons – was never going to work, but it’s been competently assembled by a team of experienced technicians in a vain attempt to bring it to life. It’s only sin? The lack of a soul.
I caught I, Frankenstein at Cinema City Nový Smíchov’s 4DX cinema, which (in addition to a 3D image) features seats that vibrate when characters walk, shake when someone gets punched, track up and down with camera movements, blow air by your head, and release odors.
While the technology is significantly better (smoother) than similar “rides” I’ve been on at amusement parks, it would still be a major distraction if you were watching, you know, an actual decent movie. But I can safely say that I, Frankenstein is the perfect fare for this kind of experience.