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Please Stop the madness
on 23 January 2015
I'm going to start off with an apology. Sorry. There, I've done it. What am I sorry for? I'm sorry because I know what I am going to say about I Frankenstein, and it isn't pretty. Neither is the monster, played by Aaron Eckhart. I've not read the graphic novel this film is based on, but can say without reservation that it has to be better than this film. It HAS TO BE. It can't not be. First of all it won't have the annoying voice-over with Mr Eckhart digging into his boots to find a macho enough voice for the character.
Sometimes a voice-over works, such as in Blade Runner, where even though the film is better without it, at least the voice-over is well performed. This is not even close being as it is mostly exposition and still nothing of any great interest. It sounds contrived from the get-go and after a while is a little grating.
There's a simple plot at work here where the Frankenstein's Monster (Eckhart) is fighting other monsters because they are bad guys (Demons), and at that time is also being chased down by the good guys (Gargoyles). So we already have a mish-mash of creatures a bit like the Hugh Jackman "Van Helsing" effort. I quite liked that one, it was a little eccentric and tongue in cheek, which "I Frankenstein" isn't. It borrows heavily from Van Helsing in the overall style but lacks the humour, instead pouring on endless special effects of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer variety.
The graphic novel would also be better because it wouldn't have a soundtrack that goes from so quiet that you can hear a pin drop to something sounding like the apocalypse is taking place in a biscuit tin.
Ok, so I'm not impressed. Let's talk a little about his appearance. The photo above is the short-hair version, but he starts out with flowing locks. I don't have a problem with that as I too have flowing locks. What I do have a problem with is his face (Sorry Aaron). I have a degree of logic and a smattering of artistry, for me things need to look right, and the Monster just doesn't. My reason for saying that is simple enough; we've all seen images of Frankenstein's Monster before. The iconic image is this one:
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Boris Karloff. Makeup by Jack P. Pierce.
Universal Studios 1931.
This is an intelligent creation. The face has limited scarring; it has a look of the dead about it. There are clamps and stitches to close the top of the head up after brain surgery, and the electrodes on his neck are for the power source to be connected to. It was made from cadavers but Victor Frankenstein used the best parts he could get as not everything came in a complete package. All makes sense. This lumbering monster was exactly that... A monster, and if 'Frankenstein' had never been created but you saw this walking down the road you'd run like Usain Bolt.
Using the same criteria, if you saw Eckhart's version walking down the road you might well think 'Poor guy, it must have been one hell of a crash'. I've seen ordinary people with worse scars than Eckhart's, but the real point is that if I were the mad scientist creating a mash-up Frankie, I wouldn't have used a face that badly damaged, not when there were many other options. For a guy who can reanimate corpses and perform brain surgery Victor's stitching leaves a lot to be desired. Monsters don't have to be covered in scars, just look at Hannibal Lechter, one of the greatest screen monsters ever and not a scar in sight.
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This Charming Man.
Right, we've established that the monster is wrong, it looks wrong, moves wrong, speaks wrong and is just wrong wrong wrong. Is that enough to put someone off? Well yes it is, but let's say we dismiss that for a moment and see what else the film has to offer.
Other issues: Nasty evil boss Demon wants to resurrect thousands of corpses for an army of zombies to do his evil bidding. Nothing wrong with that idea, in fact on paper it looks rather cool. However, when the Demon boss is Bill Nighy I'm kinda sorta thinking that I've seen this before. I've got nothing against Bill Nighy except that he is already being overused as the go-to guy for 'evil leader' roles and this is just the same-old-same-old as his role in the Underworld films. He's an actor capable of much better than he gets to do in these roles, but hey, the guy has bills to pay, and if he's offered a constant stream of this sort of thing for the kind of money he gets then who can blame him. It's lazy casting though, and I am incredibly tired of seeing 'humans' transforming into demons in three seconds flat. This is doubly annoying when you have huge ugly stone gargoyles flying from the tops of buildings, swooping into a landing position while transitioning into human guise complete with clothing. I have a pet hate of shapeshifting that also includes clothes, jewelry and makeup.
If you are going to become another creature there's a really great way to do it:
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An American Werewolf in London.
That's from the John Landis film 'An American Werewolf in London', the guy above is 'wolfing out' in style there and you can tell that it hurts like hell, he's suffering as he contorts and his skin stretches, you feel his pain as his limbs snap and elongate. He rips his clothes off as he transforms into a naked snarling beast. It's a masterclass in physical transformation, prosthetics and animation, not the run of the mill 'Buffy-in-a-box' CGI stuff that's approaching critical mass these days. This is old school, and this is perfect.
Eckhart, Nighy… moving swiftly on... Oh, actually we'll just back this train up a little... Miranda Otto and Bill Nighy are opposing forces in this plot? She's the big boss lady 'Leonore', an 'Angel' leading the Gargoyles. Screen time limited, acting even more so. I found myself constantly wanting her to shut her pie-hole so the film could move on. You can take it from me that she is a pointless addition to an already overblown mess.
There are (almost) no other characters worthy of note in this, they are all stock cardboard in walk-on roles and none of them get to develop any depth.
In regular life I sometimes refer to things as a 'soufflé', by which I mean 'all puffed-up but with little actual content'. This film is similar to that, it's a bit like waiting for Christmas because you've seen a huge red sack with your name on it and assume it is bursting with goodies only to find on Christmas Day that the sack contains a bunch of balloons, many with slow punctures. It could have been great, but after the initial disappointment you're left with a whole load of noise as they either burst or squeak away to nothing leaving you deflated.
Is there anything good about it at all? Well, I saw it in 3D and that was well done. The effects although far too many were well handled with a genuine feeling of depth in a film where the characters lacked it. I wouldn't say it was visually stunning, but it did better than most.
On the subject of visually stunning the film does have one saving grace, which is the tragically underused Yvonne Strahovski. She is pretty good on the acting front, but not in this, where all she really gets to be is the nerdy scientist working on reanimating dead rodents for Bill Nighy's master plan.
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Yvonne Strahovsky. The Eye Candy Scientist.
Reanimating rodents is all well and good, but as any scientist will tell you it's a far cry from being able to have similar results with bigger creatures or indeed corpses. There's also another pet-hate of mine which is all too common these days, which is the one where you get a horror film about a Demon and there's a classroom with students learning about that particular demon at the time… a bit convenient. In this film 'Adam' had been walking around for 200+ years. The Demons have been after him or his neatly bound volume of Victor Frankenstein's recipe book for all of that time, yet with all of their numbers and resources it takes until the modern day for them to even come close to achieving their goals. Gimme a break! As the centuries rolled he would have had far more places to hide, and with modern surgeons keeping accident victims alive he wouldn't have looked out of place. 150 years ago he would have stuck out like a sore thumb and been much easier to track down. Am I being pissy? Maybe.
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