Frankenstein (2004) (TV miniseries)
Mary Shelley's Frankenstein has always fascinated me. The first time I read it, I was twelve, perhaps a bit too young to grasp the complexities of the story, but I found it enjoyable and haunting. Throughout my academic career, I must have read it at least five times more for various classes, but rereading it was never a chore as I always found something meaningful with each new study. Being able to look at it with more mature eyes, I realised that what touched me most deeply each time was the Creature's eloquence when he describes his experiences to his creator. There's such dignity in his words, such an astounding view of a refined and noble mind, and there is no mistaking his heartbreaking desperation to be loved. Even in the midst of the Creature confessing to having caused the deaths of William and Justine, even when he proclaims that if he cannot inspire love he would instead cause fear (Ch. 10), it is nothing but a cry for affection, a last despairing plead of a child to his parent to care for him. It gets me every time.
So I've spent a long time trying to see every version that was made, even the ones that are marginally related like the innumerable Hammer Horror films with Peter Cushing, which really have more to do with my B-horror cult-love for Peter Cushing than for my search in trying to extract something meaningful in relation to the story of Frankenstein. The Boris Karloff version (1931) is delightful film noir, the haunting shades of grey making a spectacularly expressive face for the Creature, but what is most meaningful to me of the original story, the Creature's display of intellect and quiet nobility, is completely obliterated, having reduced the Creature to nothing more than a grunting monster who plods his way across the film set terrorising the other characters. While there are many other versions, the other one of note, Kenneth Branagh's film (1994), did a pleasant job with Robert DeNiro as the Creature, although I was more impressed with Branagh's performance than with DeNiro's who still sounded, looked and acted like "DeNiro playing the Creature." I found it disappointing and completely unmoving.*
I had been meaning to see the 2004 film/series/version for some time, but like many things on my to-do list, it got pushed to the back until one of my friends told me it was her favourite version. So I made it a priority. I wasn't certain what to expect having never seen Alec Newman, Nicole Lewis, or Richard Rowlands in anything prior. While I've enjoyed William Hurt and Donald Sutherland in other roles, I knew that despite having high billing, they couldn't be relied upon to carry the story, being cast in periphery parts. Although some people may disagree with me when I say this, and I think they might have just cause to debate, Alec Newman as Victor Frankenstein didn't matter to me although he's on the screen more than anyone else, as I thought that the lion's share of what would make or break this version depended on Luke Goss as the Creature.
I'd seen Luke Goss only in one other role, that of Prince Nuada in Hellboy II: The Golden Army. I wasn't a huge Hellboy fan, liked Ron Perlman in some stuff, wasn't too keen on the first film, but saw the second because I'm a completist... and as everyone in my acquaintance knows, I did a complete 180... and you guessed it, all because I thought Prince Nuada was one awe-inspiring character. Still and all, Luke Goss may have nailed Prince Nuada, but I wasn't entirely convinced he'd be up to the task of a character from classic literature which had been performed a hundred and one times before him. I was eager to find out.
...And find out I did.
I thought it was a very faithful adaptation of the book, a thing which pleased me greatly. While I am not against a creative industry taking artistic license with a story since this can often produce something unique, unusual and very much appreciated, a faithful rendition of Frankenstein was something which had been sorely missing from the index of films and other visual media. I had my pet peeves though. I thought Alec Newman played Victor Frankenstein as a much too whiny and angst-ridden coward, forever brooding, even before he had anything to truly brood about. With Nicole Lewis playing a sufficiently dull version of the angel-of-the-house Elizabeth, I could not help but find myself bored with most scenes in which she played a part, to the point that I began paying more attention her very noticeable dark roots in her otherwise fair hair than to anything she was doing on screen. William Hurt, while mostly enjoyable, is the only one to sport a heavy accent, a thing which he would have been better off without. I thought Donald Sutherland's character was a bit too self-righteous, but I suspected that was more a flaw in the script than in his acting. I know reading the above, it sounds like I wasn't terribly impressed, and I suppose, with much of it, I wasn't, but it was faithful to the story, had beautiful surroundings, and explored the original story's themes and aspects with greater depth. I did like it overall.
The treatment of the Creature features largely in why I view this version so highly. I appreciated the fact that, rather than going for the shock- or horror- factor as most other visuals tend to do with masses of unnecessary scarring or unusual metallic neck ornaments, the Creature's physical appearance was taken directly from the book:
The appearance of the Creature is therefore not monstrous by definition but, rather, unnatural and disturbing. I definitely gave this significant weight as a visual of 'monster' undermines the humanity of the Creature, and despite whatever else he may be, he is human, subject to the same emotions and needs. Full points for that.
If this version had featured a mediocre actor in the role of the Creature, the film would still have been a pleasant diversion, perhaps a bit more amusing if you're a fan of either Donald Sutherland or William Hurt, worthy of watching, but just once. However, Luke Goss makes this version so much more than merely diverting. He makes it superb with his subtlety, excellent intuition, and an innate understanding of what makes the story of Frankenstein so touching and tragic. It's a movie I will be certain to watch many more times and a project, I think, Luke Goss should be extremely proud of.