Our rating: 3 out of 5
reviewed by: Charity Bishop
One of the most remarkable novels of the 18th century was planned as nothing more than a writing assignment. Frankenstein is less a horror story than an exploration of man's need for divine influence; or what we would be like in the absence of a loving God.
After witnessing the death of a family pet in a tragic accident, followed shortly thereafter by the passing of his mother into the afterlife, young Victor Frankenstein (Alec Newman) vows to find a way to sustain life after death. Leaving behind his father and beloved Elizabeth (Nicole Lewis), ward of the family, he journeys into the city to begin life as a medical student. The most impressive of his teachers is the far-reaching Professor Waldman (William Hurt), who encourages his students to think outside the box. Enlisting his opinion on whether or not electrical currents can sustain life, Victor makes an experiment on a dead dog found in the road. His electrical charge reanimates the animal for a few moments, before the creature dies a second time.
Despite the cautions of Waldman against playing with such powerful forces, Victor distances himself from family and friends as he attempts to create a man from dead limbs stolen from local graveyards. The disfigured and gruesome carcass is rejuvenated during an electrical storm, but Victor is driven to madness upon the first sight of him. The Creature (Luke Goss) escapes into the world while Victor is taken in by family members, concerned for his health. Aware of his misshapen and hideous features, the Creature can find no love or kindness among mankind and decides to make Victor pay for his sins. Tormented, Victor becomes caught up into a horrible sequence of events that leads to multiple murder as he comes to realize that mankind might create life, but cannot speak into existence the presence of a soul to lend it compassion.
What impressed me most about this miniseries was that it did not blot out the religious undertone of the novel, in which many conversations about God and the notion of right and wrong take place. On more than one occasion, Waldman stresses that the right of creation and giving life belong only to God, and that it is blasphemy to toy with it. When admonished for his violent, sadistic behavior by a ship's captain (Donald Sutherland) who says that Jesus would never act so, the Creature replies that, "Jesus was loved by His father." There is no deep inspirational undercurrent to the story, for it plays out in a series of connected tragedies. But one does get the impression that man cannot truly create life so much as he can make a poor copy of it, and that we cannot create goodness and compassion in a soul so much as evil can overrun it.
The Creature is empathetic in the sense that he is alone and abandoned, but also fierce and terrible when his rage leads him to murderous actions. He is intent on destroying Victor's life, who is actually the true fiend, for he left his creation to wreck devastation on the world. The acting is very good, but the film did seem to suffer somewhat in its length. It is extremely close to the book, but what is remarkable on the page does not always transcribe well to the screen. Still, it does have some haunting sequences, even if the nightmarish visions that Victor suffers from are overly garish and uninspired. There are implied murders -- strangling, stabbing, and a child is smothered to death by accident -- and public executions (a woman is hung). A scattering of mild language peppers the dialogue. Two separate dogs are run over by carts.
What I was most disappointed with was the sexual element, something that was not in Mary Shelly's book and no doubt she would be horrified with. The Creature realizes that he is alone and unloved only after witnessing a peasant couple copulating through a window. It's implied that Elizabeth and Victor fornicate in a field. Two sensible, Christian-raised Victorian individuals on a picnic would never do such a thing. It's a lame attempt to convince us they are really in love, but comes out as pathetic and ridiculous instead. If you're looking for an adaptation that sticks pretty close to the novel, this is it, but its few faults somewhat taint the experience.