Monday, October 17, 2011

Frankenstein Unbound!


I finally got to see this Roger Corman adaptation of the Brian Aldiss novel of the same name. I scuttled up a copy of the novel many years ago and it sits nestled with many other old sci-fi books in my closet and overgrown with various bits of bric-a-brac. I've not seen it nor read it for many years, but I know it's in there somewhere.

But I've always wanted to see this movie, but somehow never got around to it. I found it cheap the other day and sprung for a copy and hurried it home. It's alas an uneven experience.

The story concerns a scientist named Joe Buchanan who does military experiments which rip open portals in time and suddenly he and his super-smart car are swept into 18th century Europe and smack dab into the middle of the novel Frankenstein which turns out to be true events and we find the trio of Romantics Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, and Mary Shelley live just across the lake from the notorious Dr.Frankenstein. The murder of William Frankenstein by the Monster for which Justine Moritz is about to be executed compels most of the immediate story which sees Buchanan try to make sense of his new time and place and try to find mercy and justice in what turns out to be a very harsh world indeed.

The best thing about it is the late Raul Julia's outstanding performance as the utterly unlikeable and downright evil Doctor Frankenstein. It's a always been a contention of mine that Frankenstein was a lout, and this shows that arrogant self-interest at the cost of all others in great relief. The Frankenstein here is just the kind of self-important fool who might imagine himself a god. When he's on screen this movie works fantastically well, but when he's not on screen things begin to sputter.

The performance of John Hurt as the time-lost Doctor Buchanan is pretty good, but he's got a lot to do and little to work with sometimes. The story demands a lot of his character, to not only accept what is going on around him, but to deal with it, that this key role must be credible. It is most of the time, but not always alas.

After that, the thing falls off pretty quickly. Nick Brimble as the Monster is uneven, and that might be because his monster get-up lets him down at times. From the neck up it's outstanding, but when he has to get around in full figure it becomes a tad ludicrous at times. He seems to have been given some really stiff false feet to wear and they gum up the action from time to time. I have to admit his face is compelling and from time to time his acting is affecting, but it comes and goes.

The rest of the cast can only be considered adequate, but since this a Roger Corman "B" picture, adequate ain't bad really. Bridget Fonda as Mary Shelley is pretty good most of time, but Jason Patric and the late Michael Hutchence as Byron and Shelley respectively are not as effective as they ought to be. There is definitely a "phoning-it-in" feeling to some of these scenes.

The budget for this movie seems to be more than for many Corman efforts, but still it appears to fall short of offering up truly convincing sets and costumes in every instance. There's a certain false Hollywood shine to everything that undermines what should be a gritty realistic feel. The fight sequences which result in various kinds of arm tearing mayhem fall far short, and give the movie unintentional humor.

The climax of the story has some neat surprises, but I won't say I fully understand them. The novel is not an easy one to unravel and Corman only partially succeeds in getting the larger themes across. The final scenes though are dramatic ones, that I will grant.

This is an impressive effort, if not a completely successful one. It did make me want to dig out that Aldiss novel though, so that's something.


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