• Gabe Powers

I, Frankenstein Blu-ray Review (originally published 2014)

200 years after Dr. Frankenstein's shocking creation came to life, celestial forces name the creature Adam and arm him with weapons to defeat the demons that are constantly seeking his destruction. However, Adam soon finds himself in the middle of a war over the fate of humanity and discovers that he also holds the key that could destroy humankind. (From Lionsgate’s official synopsis)



The Underworld movies have often seemed at war with their inherently ridiculous, refusing to acknowledge it to the point of parody, more often than not making them bafflingly dull compared to their counterparts. Similarly ridiculous films, like Tommy Wirkola’s Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013) or Stephen Sommers’ Van Helsing (2004 – any of Sommers’ movies, really), tend to acknowledge their ridiculousness and laugh at themselves along with their audiences, to varying degrees of success. It’s not so much that silly concepts are unworthy of dramatic approaches, but that the belabored somberism of the Underworld franchise has become exhausting and, worse, boring. Bereft (however briefly) of Underworld movies, the franchise’s producers have moved on to another one of writer Kevin Grevioux’s classic monster ‘re-imaginings’ – one that borrows from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and vague Biblical legend (in the tradition of Gregory Widen’s Prophecy [1995], it seems), instead of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and the werewolf mythos that itself developed from a combination of real-world legends and made-for-movie hullabaloo. Grevioux also steals his villain’s final plan from the aforementioned Van Helsing and “borrows” extensively from the ‘90s animated series Gargoyles. The resulting film is muddled, woefully unoriginal, and, of course, just as problematically straight-faced as Underworld.


And I, Frankenstein is every inch an Underworld stand-in, from it’s (amusingly) dopey and exposition-heavy mythology, to a plot device that essentially turns a major character into a MacGuffin (Adam and Underworld's vampire/werewolf hybrid, Michael Corvin, are entirely interchangeable on a plot level), angst-ridden performances, and plenty of sub-Matrix action. Rumor even has it that a cross-over might have been in the works, before I, Frankenstein flopped at the box office. This time, however, Grevioux (who appears as one of the film’s main heavies, Dekar) is only partially to blame at most. He shares a story credit with director Stuart Beattie and Beattie holds the sole screenwriting credit. This is only Beattie’s second time behind the camera, following Tomorrow, When the War Began (2010), an Australian action/drama that sounds an awful lot like Red Dawn (1985). He seems to be a capable technical director plainly capturing action with minimal camera shake and his blocking is dynamic, but he and editor Marcus D'Arcy have a terrible sense of pacing in regards to storytelling or rhythm in terms of standalone action sequences. I, Frankenstein is both relentlessly-paced and interminably dull – a seemingly impossible feat shared by a number of other disposable, high-concept action movies.



Random, vaguely connected events (most of them action set pieces) zip by so quickly that there’s no time to absorb any of the expositional information. During the extremely busy first act, mere minutes separate hundreds of years of in-film time, which just brings more attention to plot inconsistencies and a lack of real character development. This is mostly frustrating, but also inadvertently funny when the actors dramatically spout the names of characters the audience has no possibility of remembering. Honestly, the names could be changing with every other sentence and I wouldn’t know it, because there’s no time to make the distinction between the demon/gargoyle names. At least the lazy casting helps Beattie cut to the quick in terms of defining his characters. Bill Nighy plays the same guy he played in Underworld, Miranda Otto plays another benevolent fantasy princess, and Jai Courtney plays another angsty meathead. Efforts are once again muddled, because the on-the-nose supporting players are led by two catastrophically miscast leads in Aaron Eckhart and Yvonne Strahovski. Eckhart most of all, as he seems to have modeled his entire performance on Grumpy Cat. As if the film wasn’t already muddy enough, it’s also nearly impossible to differentiate the locations – an editing issue compounded by the sameness of most of the sets and lack of life on the streets. Characters might be traveling vast distances for important reasons, but it seems just as likely that they’re crossing the street with incidental purpose, because it appears that every building is in view of the others.



Video

I, Frankenstein was shot on Red Epic digital HD cameras and post-converted for 3D exhibition. This Blu-ray features the 3D and 2D versions of the film, both in 1080p, 2.40:1 video, but I am only reviewing the 2D version. Beattie and cinematographer Ross Emery often embrace the format’s high rate of detail, but also leave many of their backgrounds smooth enough to hide flimsy sets and unfinished digital effects. When they’re meant to be sharp, though, textures are very complex with tight edges and little notable haloing. There are odd digital artifacts, including the expected digital noise between foreground and background plates and unexpected ghosting effects, both of which make me wonder if this is a 2D version of the 3D conversion, instead of a straight dupe of the original material (the producer’s commentary even mentions the ghosting problem they had with the 3D material). The color palette is bland, taking its cues from the extremely blue Underworld movies, along with the more recent digital blockbuster propensity for oranges and teals. Despite the dreariness, these limited hues are well-represented. When elements need to be separated, the edges are perfectly cut and, when they are meant to blend, they mix with minimum banding or blocking. The differentiations between more delicate hues, like the occasionally natural skin tones, and the more stylized ones, like those ugly teals, are actually quite impressive, as are the deep black levels.


Audio

I, Frankenstein is presented here in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound. The aggressive and continuously busy soundtrack is among the film’s few highlights. The aural landscape vibrates with multi-channel engulfing, supernatural elements. Many of these effects, like the whooshing sound of a dying demon (they turn into a swirl of fire for some reason), threaten to overwhelm the track entirely and, indeed, they are set a bit too loud when they land in the center channel, but the immersive ambience and music is rarely lost beneath the screaming creatures and smashing weapons. Smaller, more incidental effects are similarly punchy and loud. This is particularly amusing when the crinkle of Bill Nighy’s clothing is comparatively deafening. The vocal track is even and centered, though still demonstrates heavy aural impact when supernatural characters speak in stereo-infused supernatural voices. Johnny Klimek and Reinhold Heil’s music is generic in terms of motifs and melodies, but certainly gets the job done with big, stirring noise and sounds quite rich on this track. As I mentioned, the louder effects are certainly powerful, but they do not drown out the intricacies of the instrumentations.



Extras

  • Commentary with co-writer/director Stuart Beattie – The director’s commentary is perfectly pleasant and very well-prepared track that covers the basic ins and outs of the production. Beattie does a good job pacing himself and evenly spreads the facts over the 92-minute runtime without many pauses or too much repetition. His approach is so fact-driven that it may be too dry for some listeners, but he isn’t a stiff speaker.

  • Commentary with producers Gary Lucchesi and Richard Wright, visual effects supervisor James McQuaide, and co-writer/actor Kevin Grevioux – This group commentary is less focused and features longer silent spaces, but the looser atmosphere is more entertaining overall. There’s quite a bit of overlap between the tracks, so I’d suggest choosing one track over the other based on their tone alone (i.e. the first one is straight-forward, the second one is a smidge more ‘fun’).

  • Creating a Monster (13:00, HD) – A look at the film’s character/creature design, prosthetic make-up application, costume design, and CG effects.

  • Frankenstein's Creatures (14:20, HD) – A more generalized and fluffy behind-the-scenes featurette with the producers, writers, director, and cast.

  • Trailer and trailers for other Lionsgate releases



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