Tuesday, November 24, 2015

A new look at Dr. Frankenstein

It's sufficiently dark, but Victor Frankenstein also can be quite silly.
James McAvoy takes avidity so far over the top, we can see spittle flying from his mouth in the late scenes of Victor Frankenstein, another take on Mary Shelley's much abused novel.

Perhaps following McAvoy's lead, Scottish director Paul McGuigan joins McAvoy in excess. Maybe he encouraged it. In any case, McGuigan -- along with a more subdued Daniel Radcliffe as Igor Strausman -- pushes the production over a steep Gothic cliff until it plunges into a pool of silliness.

Before the lightning strike that brings Frankenstein's man/monster to life, the movie spends much of its creative capital recreating a 19th century environment in which the insane rationalism of Dr. Victor Frankenstein vies with more traditional views, namely that the creation of life is not the business of science.

Prior to the unveiling of his major achievement, Dr. Frankenstein introduces a small sampling of London's scientific community to a homunculus, actually a monstrous creature resembling a mutant chimpanzee. The movie clearly wants us to know that Frankenstein may have bitten off more than he can chew by zapping life into dead flesh.

As Igor -- introduced as a circus hunchback who Dr. Frankenstein cures -- Radcliffe provides the film with sporadic narration and a bit of welcome sensitivity. (Frankenstein discovers that Igor isn't a hunchback at all; he has a very large abscess.)

An autodidact, Radcliffe's Igor has taught himself medicine and anatomy. He's so grateful to Dr. Frankenstein for liberating him from his circus-freak existence that he readily joins the doctor's search for a new Prometheus.

Igor even has a love interest, a trapeze artist (Jessica Brown Findlay) he saves in the movie's opening scenes.

Andrew Scott signs on as a grim inspector from Scotland Yard, a policeman who insists on investigating Frankenstein's activities, which he's certain are pernicious.

Drawing from previous movies and playing with our perceptions about Shelley's story, McGuigan relies on production design and computer graphics to create an eerie environment.

And, yes, it all might have made for a rousing good comedy had Mel Brooks not already done it in 1974's Young Frankenstein. The screenplay pays a quick homage to Brooks when Frankenstein corrects someone who pronounces his name -- and I'm going phonetic here -- Frank-en-steen.

The resultant movie may not be monstrous; it is, however, somewhat risible, a dark, labyrinthine affair in which great wheels turn, electrical flashes erupt and the whole business -- which begins in near arty fashion -- eventually short circuits.

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