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The SportsAlcohol.com Frankenstein Studies: Frankenstein (2016)

Nathaniel

SportsAlcohol.com cofounder Nathaniel moved to Brooklyn, as you do. His hobbies include cutting up rhubarb and laying down. His favorite things are the band Moon Hooch and custard from Shake Shack. Old ladies love his hair.
Nathaniel

Latest posts by Nathaniel (see all)

JESSE:
OK, Nathaniel, it’s time to talk about this Frankenstein 2016 redo that’s just come out on Blu-ray. I really should’ve sent this movie over to Rob and Sabrina with the probably foolish hopes that their contributions to the discussion could keep us from devolving into Josh Hutcherson fan fiction and analysis of the comic strip Luann, but we’ll do our best. This is such a new version of Frankenstein that it hasn’t even been added to the Wikipedia page of Frankenstein In Popular Culture (if you’re the one who updates this, please do), and it’s pretty stripped down. I’m sure some of that has to do with its direct-to-video origins, but I did see some value — perhaps more theoretical than actual — in doing up a “modern-day Frankenstein story” on pedestrian-looking city streets and sets that look a bit like redressed high school basements. Did the low-budget angle work for you, the Frankenstein enthusiast?

NATHANIEL:
Yeah, I’m often skeptical of that kind of low-budget (and modern day) approach for stories like this. But here, in restricting the adaptation and point of view primarily to the portions of the story where the creature is off on his own learning the ways of the world, they found a way in to the story that actually feels fresh for a while, and kind of appropriate spending tons of time in vacant lots and empty irrigation canals or whatever generic concrete-and-chainlink environs they shot in. It’s definitely an immersive approach, dropping you right in with a POV camera and little in the way of exposition. And I dug the way that, since this version of the creature remains pretty inarticulate, they incorporated some of the text of the novel as voiceover (or at least voice over clearly meant to invoke the novel, since some seemed tailored specifically to what we see onscreen and I didn’t have a copy on hand to compare it). But placing us so fully in the creature’s perspective, and extending his “cast out & beset upon by the cruelty of the world” period to make up the entirety of the film, ended up making it feel punishing to me. The grubby grisliness of it all (and how about the gore in this movie?) makes for some pretty memorable imagery, but it also ends up a little monotonous. And it felt a little weird rubbing up against the numerous homages to the Karloff films. Xavier Samuel really goes for it (perhaps because we watched this shortly before the Academy Awards, it brought to mind DiCaprio playing another revenant, at least in terms of drooling, screaming, and dirt eating), but he’s no Karloff. So the winky stuff made me miss the pathos of Karloff’s performances as the last half hour of the film heaped even more misery on the monster. Did that bother you at all? Or did that stuff even read as specific homage anymore?
Continue reading The SportsAlcohol.com Frankenstein Studies: Frankenstein (2016)

I, Jealous: I, Frankenstein Is a Headline-Writer’s Dream

Gripes

Marisa

There are contrarians, there are iconoclasts, and then there is SportsAlcohol.com co-founder Marisa. A contraiclast? Her favorite Springsteen album came out this century, so she is basically a controversy machine.

Also, she is totally not a dude!
Marisa
Gripes

Look, I know we should be moving on from all this I, Frankenstein  nonsense—the world seems to have moved on, barely having noticed it—but none of my SportsAlcohol.com colleagues have hit upon the best thing about the movie: the headline potential.

I work in media, and sometimes it falls upon me to write headlines. I find it to be one of the hardest parts of what I do, especially since I work in print where we still (try to) use clever puns instead of Google AdWord-researched, plain-and-to-the-point keywords in our headlines. If an I, Frankenstein article came across my desk and I had to write display copy for it, I’d be giddy. There’s just so much material there.

Alas, I was not one of the privileged few who got to write an I, Frankenstein headline—hey, until now!—but here are some of the lucky ones who did, and nailed it.

There were those who used the awkward “me Tarzan, you Jane”-sounding title to their advantage.

01Title - Vulture

Vulture

02Title - MovieNation

Movie Nation

There were those who called the movie out for how monstrously bad it is.

03Monster - OnMilwaukee

On Milwaukee

There were those who pointed out its utter lack of a pulse.

04Corpse - PhillyCom

Philly.com

05Corpse - Variety

Variety

And, finally, the ones that reference other, better Franks.

06Reference - PhoenixNewTimes

Phoenix New Times

07Reference - StLouisPostDispatch

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

I bow to these writers and their headline-writing superiority. Next to them, when it comes to writing I, Frankenstein headlines: I, suck.

I, Frankenstein: A Meditation

Nathaniel

SportsAlcohol.com cofounder Nathaniel moved to Brooklyn, as you do. His hobbies include cutting up rhubarb and laying down. His favorite things are the band Moon Hooch and custard from Shake Shack. Old ladies love his hair.
Nathaniel

Latest posts by Nathaniel (see all)

All right, now that we’ve all seen I, Frankenstein (and read Jesse’s review) here’s a place for us to talk about it without spoiling all its twists and turns (there aren’t any) for those who haven’t seen it yet (everybody).  And anyway, I’m not here to savage the movie.  I spent the last couple of months grumbling at anybody who’d listen about what gargoyles and demons had to do with the Frankenstein story, so it’s only fair that I consider the answers the filmmakers offered.

I, Frankenstein as Adaptation:
IFrankensteinIt turns out that this epic story of the struggle between gargoyles and demons for the fate of humanity revolves around the character of Frankenstein’s Monster, a central figure in Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel, Frankenstein.  In addition to his origin in this seminal science fiction novel, the creature has a long and varied cinematic history.  Even before the iconic Universal version of the story, Thomas Edison adapted the story for film.  Over the years there have been so many additions to and variations on the Frankenstein mythology that a story like I, Frankenstein ends up being a grab-bag of elements from many different Frankensteins.

I, Frankenstein‘s creature is a soulless (or is he?) creature assembled by Dr. Victor Frankenstein from parts of exhumed corpses and reanimated by the application of electricity, obtained from a tank of electric eels.  Dumped in a river by his creator, the creature returns to murder the doctor’s wife and then flees to the arctic.  Frankenstein pursues his creation, dies of exposure, and is brought back by the creature to be buried in his family’s graveyard.  After a skirmish with some demons, the creature meets the gargoyle queen and is named Adam.

Interlude On the Subject of The Creature’s Name:
In the novel, Frankenstein does not give the creature a name.  This is tied up in his rejection of his creation, and he alternately refers to it as a “fiend,” a “wretch,” and a “monster.”  In the absence of a given name, audiences generally resort to one of two other options.  The most popular is obviously to just refer to the creature as Frankenstein.  This most likely solidified in the public consciousness in the 1930s, with the popularity of the Universal film adaptation and an advertising campaign that was primarily just the title and the image of Jack Pierce’s design for the creature.  The film so successfully colonized the public’s imagination that even now, 83 years later, if you ask somebody who Frankenstein is you’re very likely to get a description of the monster with the flat top and neck bolts (drawing the pedantic ire of nerds like us everywhere).  The second most common name for the creature is Adam.  Mary Shelley is said to have referred to the creature by this name in early drafts/tellings of the story and in letters to friends.  For his own part, after reading Milton’s “Paradise Lost” (Shelley’s creature is highly intelligent and eloquent), the creature tells Frankenstein that he saw himself in the story of creation, though he identified most with Satan, saying “I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel.”  Pop culture examples of this usage include Dark Shadows, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and I, Frankenstein.

I confess, it’s a little hard to know just how self-aware the filmmakers were in creating their version of the story.  Their use of Adam for his name suggests some nerdish faux-fidelity, and they included the flight to the arctic from the novel.  But did they also know that when they had their doctor use electric eels in his creation process that they weren’t adapting Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein but Kenneth Branagh’s Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein?  This creature’s design incorporates the long hair from the book (at least it does for the beginning of the movie set in the 1700s), but understandably forgoes the yellow corpse pallor and blackened lips.  He’s also an Eckhartian six-foot-something instead of an eight foot tall giant.  Now, in fairness, Dr. Frankenstein’s ambition was to create a being possessing physical beauty in proportion to his other attributes, so I guess in this movie we are to assume he succeeded (some patchwork scarring notwithstanding).  In any case, I assume that even Mary Shelley would have approved of this Dr. Frankenstein’s ab selection.

Abenstein's AbsterBut, beyond the details of their presentation of the creature, I’m interested in trying to suss out the weird way this movie interacts with some of the themes of the original story (this may get tricky, since the movie doesn’t really make much sense).

The novel tells the story of a creator who abandons his creation, appalled by what he’d wrought (as I mentioned the creature draws explicit parallels between himself and Satan in “Paradise Lost”).  The creature is lost and angry because of this abandonment and lashes out at his creator, demanding that the doctor build him a companion.  The story ends with the creator dead and his creation heading off to destroy himself in despair.  In the universe of I, Frankenstein, God is very real and his emissaries on earth take the form of a dwindling band of gargoyles.  Their mission is to combat demons disguised as human, and these demons are specifically interested in Adam because he doesn’t have a soul.  Now, by tackling this stuff head-on, I’d say that they are making a bid to be the True Spiritual Sequel to Mary Shelley’s novel.  Let’s see how they did.

Adam spends the entire movie violently opposed to the demons (I guess because they tried to kidnap him at a particularly low emotional moment) and vaguely on the side of the gargoyles (he doesn’t seem to have much use for them, and they SUCCESSFULLY kidnap him more than once, but shortly after one of the main gargoyles tries to kill him he snarls something to the demons about how the gargoyle order MUST be preserved).  So, accepting that Adam is supposed to be the novel’s Frankenstein’s monster, that means that we end the film with the creature having shifted identification from Milton’s Satan to Adam.  Indeed, after killing countless demons, his final Batman monologue is all about how he’s going to take on the gargoyles’ mission from God and protect the rest of humanity.

To Kill a Gargoyle, or Aesthetic Innovation in I, Frankenstein:
I’d like to take a moment to praise I, Frankenstein for what I think is its greatest contribution to the “Boring PG-13 Action Movie That Travesties Classic Monsters” genre.  I’m talking, of course, about the movie’s twist on the way that these kinds of movies have their monsters burst into sparks and ashes when they are killed.  Presumably taking their cues from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which had to make the deaths of their villains palatable for a television audience, the go-to move here is to have your dying monster burn or dissolve into ash.  I, Frankenstein’s leap forward in this arena is that after the demons or gargoyles burst apart, their souls take the form of fire (for the demons) or a beam of light (for the gargoyles).  These souls burst out, rush all around the room AND THEN DESCEND TO HELL OR ASCEND TO HEAVEN.  That’s right, in addition to watching a demon flake apart & scatter, you get to watch his soul burn a hole in the ground as it is taken to Hell.  This means that during the big group battles you can get some sense of how things are going by estimating the fireball/lightbeam ratio.  The effect also seems readymade for the I, Frankenstein stunt spectacular at Universal Studios Nowhere.

The movie’s depiction of Adam’s emotional journey is a little hard to follow because Eckhart spends the entire movie frowning and running in circles no matter what’s going on around him, but I think we can figure this out.  After we’ve flashed foward a couple of hundred years and picked up with Adam frowning and killing demons and running in circles in what is presumably a modern, if dystopian, world, the gargoyle queen yells at him for letting a police officer get killed by a demon during a fight.  Adam dismisses her concern over the dead man, and we are seemingly meant to take this as evidence that he lacks any connection to mankind and his war against the demons is motivated more abstractly because they tried to kidnap him before the gargoyles successfully kidnapped him.  At the end of the movie, he is willing to sacrifice himself to save man- and gargoylekind alike, presumably because he became friends with Yvonne Strahovski.  In exchange for his self-sacrifice, he is rescued from falling down into Hell by the gargoyle queen.  So in this reading, he has gone from feeling like Milton’s Satan, rejected and cast down by his creator, to feeling like Adam, a being created with a purpose and protected by God.  Which, incidentally makes it weirder to me that in his final superhero monologue he doesn’t say anything about the name Adam (which was given to him by the gargoyle queen, and would seem to align him with humanity) and instead concludes by him calling himself Frankenstein (I guess so they could call the movie I, Frankenstein).  As for the meaning of that title, your guess is as good as mine.

Scenarios That Would Have Made The Title Appropriate:

  • Taking Up The Family Business
    As the movie proceeded, I actually began to expect this one to happen.  Of course it did not.  In this scenario, Yvonne Strahovski’s character, Terra(!), would have died during the raid on the demon science compound.  After all of the demon business was resolved, Adam would have used the secrets of Dr. Frankenstein’s journal to reanimate her, forgiving his “father” for his own creation and taking the name Frankenstein himself.
  • What Goes Around Comes Around
    In this scenario, Adam has a son sometime during the course of the movie.  He abandons the kid at the end of the movie (either out of heroic “for its own good” sacrifice or because the kid is repulsive) and realizes, filled with emo self-loathing, that he’s become just like Frankenstein.
  • The Reading of the Will
    In this scenario, the movie is less about demons vs. angels, and more a legal drama about the court proceedings over the disposition of Dr. Frankenstein’s estate (naturally there is a stipulation that the heir must spend the night in Frankenstein’s castle).  In the end, the creature has to claim his creator’s name in order to be named his heir.
  • I, Frankenstein…
    In this scenario, the movie is more of a biopic, in a semi-anthology or chapter segmented format.

Prologue – “I, Frankenstein”

This is the brief recap of his creation, the death of Dr. Frankenstein, and the creature’s assumption of the name.

Chapter 1 – “I, Frankenstein, take this woman to be my lawfully wedded wife..”

This is the story of how he built and then courted his wife.

Chapter 2 – “I, Frankenstein, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States…”

In this one, he brokers the peace between the demons and gargoyles while fending off political attacks from birthers.

Chapter 3 – “I, Frankenstein, being of sound mind and body, declare this my Last Will and Testament…”

This one has him writing his will on the morning of his retirement party.

Conclusion:
Don’t go see I, Frankenstein.

Major Cultural Event: I, Frankenstein (2014)

Jesse

Jesse is a cofounder of SportsAlcohol.com even though he doesn't care for sports or alcohol. His favorite movie is Ron Howard's The Paper. I think. This is what happens when you don't write your own bio. I know for sure likes pie.

At one point in I, Frankenstein, someone in the movie reassures someone else: “This is real — all of it,” which I think really means “this is real — even the bullshit about gargoyles, swear to god.”

Let me back up. There are only four Underworld movies. You may have thought there were either one or infinity Underworld movies, but that number stands at a measly four. What’s more, the Underworld movies only involve vampires and werewolves in their dense mythology dedicated to explaining why vampires would deign to shoot guns at werewolves and, to a much lesser extent, defy the gun-shooting dictum to fuck werewolves. The Underworld movies try their best to be inclusive (vampires, werewolves, guns), but leave out monsters such as: mummies; zombies; demons; Twilights; gill-people; fifty-foot women; ghosts; Bigfoots; and Frankensteins.

So what if there was a movie about an army of Frankensteins? That is the plot of I, Frankenstein. It may not seem like this at first because “I” is a singular and also because it’s not really mentioned in the movie until around the halfway point, and not really acted upon until maybe the three-quarters mark. But that is because the first three-quarters of the movie are exposition and then only the last one-quarter is plot. I, Frankenstein has a lot of what we who pretend we are in the business call “world-building.” When you world-build, you use computers to construct vast fantastical places that look somewhat like soundstages.

This is the world Frankenstein, who as many people in the movie point out is actually Frankenstein’s Monster, and who is also called Adam after that lackluster Buffy villain, enters into after the events of the Mary Shelley novel Frankenstein. These events are recounted in the space of forty-five languorous seconds at the beginning of this movie before getting down to the real business: adapting a sham graphic novel written for the purpose of being adapted into a screenplay that rips off Underworld. After that boring Shelley stuff is over, Adam is confronted by demons, who covet his secrets to corpse resurrection, and living, shapeshifting gargoyles, who covet stopping demons from killing shit. Both sides want him to join their war, but Adam Frankenstein needs to go his own way, which Fleetwood Mac never mentioned means living several hundred years as a Jack Reacher-like hobo, slinking around in the shadows, traveling via public-ish transportation, and washing a single set of clothes in whatever sinks he can find.

The conclusion this movie has reached is that because the monster was resurrected by unnatural means, he is basically invincible (like Jack Reacher), cannot be killed by normal means (like Jack Reacher), and not particularly psyched about that (like the non-Cruise vampire from Interview with the Vampire). I’m not sure why the half-rotted flesh used to construct this pitiful creature looks so smooth; I guess it’s due to Victor Frankenstein’s previously unsung stitchwork, which also results in scars that don’t disappear, but do rise and fall, and possibly shift around on his face, although he never says “I have scars?!” a la an earlier film in this series, Young Frankenstein.

Have I mentioned that Frankenstein’s monster is handsome in this version? (Or at least Aaron Eckhart handsome.) And why shouldn’t he be, motherfucker? Sexy vampires have had their day. The era of sexy Frankensteins begins now, or whenever Aaron Eckhart puts his back into it a little more, if you know what I mean (I don’t know what I mean). Also, I really like the idea of Frankenstein’s monster roaming the Earth following the events of the Mary Shelley novel and/or Kenneth Branagh movie. I especially like the idea that maybe at some point he becomes the mysterious new sheriff of a small town.

Anyway, though he doesn’t become sheriff onscreen in this movie, Adam Frankenstein eventually turns up in an unnamed city that must be somewhere in the same country as Underworld; at very least, I’m certain they take place on the same continent, a Europe-like landmass known as Eurotrash. This city also happens to be the world headquarters of the company headed by the demon prince played by Bill Nighy. If you’re making a movie like this, you have to include Bill Nighy (who I hope his friends have nicknamed Billy Nigh at some point). He will totally treat it like it’s a real job and make the movie feel substantially wittier than it actually is. He has been training for this his whole life by appearing in Richard Curtis movies that are not actually funny. Nighy employs a couple of legit scientists who never ask why they’re supposed to be studying suspiciously Frankensteinian reanimation science, I assume because they are trying to avoid spoilers.

Nighy sends out demons to kill humans and/or gargoyles, who also have some kind of headquarters in this town. As someone who is very interested in mythology built around shapeshifting gargoyles, I found the treatment of gargoyles in I, Frankenstein pretty confusing. The gargoyles sometimes take human form and discuss things while walking through doorways, a technique the Underworld people must have explained makes them look busy, and they do all of this in buildings lined with gargoyles. Gargoyles living in buildings lined with gargoyles: does this mean that when they go to sleep, the buildings are actually empty? Are the prime spots in this building on the outside, or the inside? I, Frankenstein is good at showing gargoyles swooping around and grabbing demons and killing them, but disappointingly mum about matters such as gargoyle real estate or gargoyle job descriptions. Like for another example, at one point, a leader gargoyle instructs another gargoyle to make sure there are plenty of gargoyles posted on all nearby buildings to keep watch over the plot of the movie. This for me raised many questions about what the gargoyles are otherwise doing. It seems like saying, hey, make sure there are plenty of humans sitting on their couches tonight.

Another weird thing about the gargoyles in this movie is that while the gargoyles and demons fight and kill each other, they can all see each other ascending to heaven (gargoyles are basically semi-angels) or descending into hell (that’s the demons), which hardly seems fair, in fact seems kind of like a major morale-suck if you’re on the side that descends into hell. When you kill a gargoyle and it just ascends majestically to heaven, possibly to be awarded seventy virgin gargoyles because I don’t know how this gargoyle-inclusive religion works,  I can imagine that might set off an existential crisis about the meaning of gargoyle-demon warfare.

I, Scientist

Then again, presumably you know the score with gargoyle-killing when you become a demon (however you become a demon). This does not explain what goes through the heads of the two normal human scientists (one hot lady, one “other”) when every day they report to work in a gigantic complex where they appear to be the only two non-security employees, and basically looks like it should have a giant DEMONCO sign out front. The DEMONCO science room is one of my favorite parts of the movie, even though it leaves me hanging about the fate of the successfully reanimated giant rat they use as a test subject. When the scientists try to reanimate something (which they aren’t able to really do correctly until they read the MacGuffin Frankenstein Book o’ Resurrection), their screens totally have a reanimation status bar readout that says stuff like “Reanimation 2%” (it takes a super long time to reanimate something). This raises questions — this movie raises many questions; it should include them after the credits, like those discussion sections they sometimes append to paperback editions of popular novels — about what, say, a 40% reanimated corpse is like. Is that like, the limbs do stuff but the rest of the body isn’t into it?

I just realized I may be recapping I, Frankenstein more than assessing its quality. Its quality should probably be discussed in Screen Gems terms. Though it comes from an Underworld writer and is obviously patterned after that series, I, Frankenstein more closely resembles other Screen Gems specials like Legion or Priest in the way it’s always swarming with sometimes-winged CG creatures. In fact, it’s extremely confusing that Paul Bettany does not appear a single time in I, Frankenstein. Bettany is a little more convincing at being intense during a storm of nonsense than Aaron Eckhart, who does look pissed off, but in that way where you can’t tell if Adam Frankenstein is pissed off about getting jerked around by gargoyles and demons and only having one hoodie, or if Aaron Eckhart is pissed off that he was Harvey Dent in the biggest Batman movie ever but now winds up with Paul Bettany’s non-Jennifer Connelly leftovers.

But I like the designs of the demons and gargoyles, and of some of the buildings, and I like the general level of Frankenstein-related glass-smashing though I feel that more of the CGI stained glass should have CGI-smashed; that feels like a missed opportunity. Also, there should have been a part where a gargoyle turns against the other gargoyles and the gargoyles have to fight each other. This admittedly does not have much to do with Frankenstein’s monster but remember, in my ideal post-Frankenstein story he’s off being the sheriff of a small town. There could still be gargoyles in that version, and some glass-smashing.

Also, this movie doesn’t have a secret ending; I checked. Come to think of it, it barely has a public ending. They must be saving that for the sequel.

ATTENTION EVERYONE

Jesse

Jesse is a cofounder of SportsAlcohol.com even though he doesn't care for sports or alcohol. His favorite movie is Ron Howard's The Paper. I think. This is what happens when you don't write your own bio. I know for sure likes pie.

SPORTSALCOHOL DOT COM MEMO:

All staff and readers are hereby required to see the feature motion picture I, Frankenstein so we can all talk about it tomorrow. Sound good? LA LA LA LA I CAN’T HEAR YOU.