Director/Screenplay – Stuart Beattie, Screen Story – Stuart Beattie & Kevin Grevioux, Based on the Graphic Novel I Frankenstein by Kevin Grevioux, Producers – Gary Lucchesi, Andrew Mason, Tom Rosenberg & Richard S. Wright, Photography (3D) – Ross Emery, Music – Reinhold Heil & Johnny Klimek, Visual Effects Supervisor – James McQuaide, Visual Effects – Cutting Edge (Supervisor – Rangi Sutton), Iloura (Supervisor – Avi Goodman), Luma Pictures (Supervisor – Vincent Cirelli), Method Studios (Supervisor – James Rogers) & Rising Sun (Supervisor – Adam Paschke), Special Effects Supervisor – Angelo Sahin, Makeup Effects – Make-Up Effects Group (Supervisors – Paul Katte & Nick Nicolaou), Production Design – Michelle McGahey. Production Company – Lionsgate/Lakeshore Entertainment/Hopscotch Features/SKE Entertainment
Aaron Eckhart (Adam), Bill Nighy (Charles Wessex/Prince Naberius), Yvonne Strahovski (Dr Terra Wade), Miranda Otto (Leonore), Jai Courtney (Gideon), Socratis Otto (Zuriel), Caitlin Stasey (Keziah), Mahesh Jadu (Ophir), Kevin Grevioux (Dekar), Bruce Spence (Molokai), Steve Mouzakis (Helek), Chris Pang (Levi), Aden Young (Victor Frankenstein)
In 1793, Victor Frankenstein stitched a creature together from corpses, using electricity to reanimate it. Cursed by its creator, the creature took revenge and killed Victor’s wife. Victor pursued it up into the Arctic but died from the cold. In taking Victor to be buried, the creature was attacked by demons but managed to slay them. Gargoyles then flew in and transported the creature away to the cathedral they make home. There Leonore, the queen of the gargoyles, marvelled over the creature, giving it a name Adam. She explained how the gargoyles were created by angels but exist in a perpetual war with the demons. Adam leaves on his own, seeking the most solitary places on the Earth, killing the demons that come after him. In the present-day, the demons under the leadership of Prince Naberius, who takes the human form of corporate head Charles Wessex, intensify their effort to capture Adam. Through this, Adam realises that the demons want Frankenstein’s notebook and the secret of how he was brought to life so that they can create an army of resurrected creatures that have no souls that can then be inhabited by demons. In befriending and then going on the run with Wessex’s human employee scientist Terra Wade, Adam comes to an understanding of his condition.
From some time out, I Frankenstein had all the forebodings of being a disaster. The advance trailer and even the basic premise was ridiculed on all the various Coming Soon fansites around the internet. Furthermore, the film was dumped in January of 2014, mid-winter in North America and the post-awards cut-off season, the time when hardly anybody goes to the movies and studios use to dispose of films they are contractually bound to release. Even then, it was released with no press previews – the critical kiss of death for a film that usually signals the studios are embarrassed of it.
One went into I Frankenstein expecting this year’s Van Helsing (2004), the film where Stephen Sommers took several Famous Monsters and spun them through a ridiculous plot piled with a numbing excess of CGI effects that reduced everything to the point of absurdity. The fact that this film’s poster proudly announced that it was “from the producers of Underworld ”, as though that is some type of recommendation, gives an indication of the demographic that the film was aiming for (those that seem to like their famous monsters buried under a profusion of mindless CGI effects and action poses). I am unable to say that I was disappointed in I Frankenstein being exactly what I expected it to be. But then one supposes you can guess ill things for the film from the title, which is supposedly narrated from the point-of-view of the monster yet fails to distinguish the popular confusion that Frankenstein was the name of the monster rather than its creator.
I Frankenstein comes from Stuart Beattie, an Australian screenwriter who had some success in the 2000s with credits on films such as Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003), Collateral (2004), Derailed (2005), 30 Days of Night (2007), Australia (2008) and G.I. Joe: The Rise of the Cobra (2009). Beattie made his directorial debut back in Australia with the film Tomorrow When the War Comes (2010) about teenagers repelling a homeland invasion to which he has been promising sequels for several years now. The film is based on I, Frankenstein (2009), a graphic novel by Kevin Grevioux (although, as far as one can tell, the Darkstorm Entertainment comic-book has only ever put out a single issue). Grevioux is also known as an actor and has played a number of roles, including the part of Raze in the Underworld series. (He can also be seen here as Dekar, the lantern-jawed African-American member of Bill Nighy’s security detail). Grevioux also maintains an equal career as a writer and comic-book artist (he even created his own comic-book company) – he was also one of the people that came up with the original screenplay for Underworld.
I Frankenstein at least gets it right during its first couple of moments where it offers up a potted recount of the details of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) and keeps to the book, including the climactic pursuit up into the Arctic that most versions have ended up dumping. It is just that shortly after that point – around about the scene when the creature buries its creator – the film heads into Van Helsing territory. From this juncture, the film introduces demons and stone gargoyles into the mix – we learn that the gargoyles were created by angels and lead secret lives up on their cathedrals and flying buttresses conducting wars with demons across the centuries (apparently no humans ever seem to notice the massive flaming explosions or all the souls flying up into the sky in beams of light). Your mind is reeling from the conceptual wackiness that seems to be going on here – something up there with the dementia of Frankenstein Conquers the World (1966), which revived the Frankenstein monster in the aftermath of Hiroshima to fight off Japanese monsters. It is a film that could be said to frequently be defying its audience to find it as absurd as it seems.
Thereafter, I Frankenstein kicks into full Van Helsing mode and never stops. Well maybe Van Helsing combined with the equally ridiculous angel combat of Legion (2010). The audience was given to laughter at some of the scenes, especially with Miranda Otto turning into a stone gargoyle and back or trying to do her best Judi Dench impression and look regal while announcing “I will name you … Adam.” Most of the film seems to consist of endless CGI effects either of demons going up in fireballs or the 3D camera flying in and around the cathedral. The CGI effects for the gargoyles are nothing special. Aaron Eckhart plays the Frankenstein monster with grimly intent seriousness but his is a performance that is more made up of poses – the creature going into action wielding sanctified iron bars or with hair artfully draped across his scarred face – than it ever is of the pathos that was generated by the great essayals of the role such as by Boris Karloff in Frankenstein (1931).
The truth about I Frankenstein is that its producers are seeking to create another Underworld franchise. Both sets of films are based around the idea of a familiar movie monster engaged in a secret war with other monsters across the ages; both seem to exist independent of plot and are driven only by the provision of CGI spectacle and transformation effects every few minutes. Like the Underworld sequels, you look back at it afterwards and all of it washes over you as pretty but meaningless eye candy that fails to engage in the slightest beyond the kinetic provision of CGI effects. And yet for all the straining for effect, there is never a single scene in any of the films that sticks in memory and makes you go wow, never a single moment where the films ever engage you on an intellectual level, even an emotional level.
The actors go through the motions while the vast machinery of the show does its thing around them – Aaron Eckhart makes little impression; Yvonne Strahovski, the radiant find of the last three seasons of Dexter (2006-13), looks vaguely troubled and concerned; while the only spark of life is provided by the always reliable Bill Nighy who gives his human lines a customary withering sarcasm.