At 196 years old, Frankenstein not likely to improve

Gary Wolcott, atomictown.comJanuary 23, 2014 

Film Review I Frankenstein

This image released by Lionsgate shows Aaron Eckhart in a scene from "I, Frankenstein." (AP Photo/Lionsgate, Ben King)

BEN KING — AP

I, Frankenstein has opened nationwide. The studio didn't screen it for most critics. When that happens -- and trying to be polite here -- a movie usually sucks. In this case, the studio's synopsis gives Dr. Frankenstein's creation the name Adam. So why the title I, Frankenstein? More on that in a bit.

Adam is caught in the middle of a war between gargoyles and demons in a post-apocalyptic world. More super hero than plodding giant, the trailers indicate this incarnation owes more to Wolverine than Boris Karloff's original.

The book Frankenstein was born in 1818 and came from the pen of author Mary Shelley. More than 100 years later in 1931, Boris Karloff was cast in a movie version as mad scientist Victor Frankenstein's creation. Key word: creation. Every movie I have researched hints Frankenstein is the creature's name, and because of that, many of us think the monster is Frankenstein.

He is not. In the book, Victor calls his creation -- among other things -- creature, it, monster, fiend, wretch and vile insect. The monster calls itself the "Adam of your labors."

Many years ago, I popped into the Tri-City Herald newsroom and caught a fascinating debate between one of the editors and a reporter. As I remember, the editor's (correct) contention was that the monster's name is not Frankenstein. The reporter's point of view was that because of the movie portrayals that started with Karloff in 1931, the creature can be called that because his name has evolved into Frankenstein.

It's an interesting argument about an entity who has gone from an 8-foot-tall, green-faced monstrosity sewn together with the body parts of dead people and housing a criminal's brain to an immortal being battling gargoyles and demons.

The original movie made Karloff, a low-rent, not-too-talented actor into a super star of his era. Karloff played the creature several times in the 1930s and '40s. He was joined in the 1940s by Lon Chaney Jr. of the Wolf Man and Mummy fame, and Bela Lugosi, who made Dracula famous. In the 1950s, the most famous actor to play him was Christopher Lee who made a great Dracula a little later, and whose star rose again in The Lord of the Rings in the 2000s.

Frankenstein flicks continued in the 1960s with no-name stars. In 1970, Star Wars' Darth Vader body actor David Prowse played the creature. So did Bo Svenson and Michael Sarrazin. Peter Boyle's hilarious turn in Mel Brooks' comedy Young Frankenstein spoofed Karloff's original take. It is my favorite creature performance.

Later, Clancy Brown, Randy Quaid and Robert De Niro did Frankenstein movies. The 1994 De Niro version directed by Kenneth Branagh is considered the most faithful to Shelley's book. Faithful or not, it was awful.

Most recently, Benedict Cumberbatch played him, and now Aaron Eckhart is taking a turn in I, Frankenstein.

The actors playing the monster have given him quite a life. He had a bride, a son and a daughter, and was a homeowner and had a house and a castle. The creature has died many times, has been cursed and was a ghost in 1942. He's battled the Wolf Man and Dracula, and the three of them terrorized Abbot and Costello in my all-time favorite Frankenstein flick Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.

The creature has been evil and gotten revenge, and a Japanese-version title has him trying to conquer the world. Along the way, he has met space monsters and monsters from hell. He has been on a college campus, has been black and a porn star. And Jesse James met the creature's daughter.

The list of accomplishments and challenges in his 196-year career is impressive.

True confession. I have yet to make it through the original Frankenstein. As a kid growing up in the Tri-Cities, the only time you could see the movie was late, late at night on the Spokane TV stations. And then only if you had cable. I gave it a shot a bunch of times, but by the point the villagers surround Karloff's pitiful monster, I was so bored I'd nod off.

My adult luck with the film hasn't been much better. I always fall asleep at that spot. Truthfully, I didn't miss much. As horror movies go, Frankenstein, no matter what way, shape or form it's done, just isn't that scary or that interesting. Though he's had an incredible career, Shelley's film version creature --and probably including the latest, I, Frankenstein -- is just plain boring.

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