Frankenstein, the Monster, and Hollywood
If you haven’t already, you will probably see the trailer for the new movie I, Frankenstein very shortly. For this, I am profoundly sorry and wish there were some way I could spare you the experience but, alas, I cannot. Hollywood has too much money tied up in that abomination, and they have every intention of stuffing it down your throat.
Now, I haven’t seen the movie and I didn’t read the graphic novel, so I suppose I leave myself wide open to criticism when I say that this movie will probably be unutterably terrible. Unlike Pacific Rim (which also was not a good movie by any objective appraisal), I, Frankenstein doesn’t even look like it will be fun. It looks like a maudlin, overly CGI-ed monstrosity representing a music video director’s idea of ‘gothic.’ We get to watch Frankenstein’s monster fight with gargoyles or something, which is a scene I doubt anybody was secretly hankering for, and we are led to believe that the monster is humanity’s only hope, which is so cliché at this point as to be an open insult to the viewing audience’s intelligence. Aaron Eckhart, who I like a lot and is a fine actor, evidently has a few house payments to make and this is how he’s chosen to do it. Fine – more power to him.
However, this film bothers me on a level beyond its apparent lack of quality. Plenty of crappy sci fi/fantasy/horror movies are made every year and very few of them actively annoy me the way this one does. In this case, the thing that sets this film apart is the title: I, Frankenstein. First of all, the monster is not Frankenstein nor would the monster ever willingly take his creator’s name. Victor Frankenstein created the monster and the monster destroyed him by systematically murdering everyone who mattered to him in his life. Dr. Frankenstein visited nothing but horror and hatred on his creation, and the creation responded in kind. To have the monster identify himself as his most hated enemy is bonkers and demonstrates either an ignorance or indifference to the source material that I find rankling.
Why does it rankle? Well, the whole point of the novel Frankenstein is about man’s relationship with his creations or, more broadly, about the ethical dilemmas surrounding scientific and technological research. Conflating the monster and the creator into a single entity or, as this film seems to do, having the monster self-identify with the creator removes what is interesting about the story in the first place. Granted people have been calling the monster ‘Frankenstein’ since the early 20th century – it may sound snooty of me to quibble with what has become common parlance – but to me the difference is essential to the essence of what the monster is about. If the man is not in the story, what are we left with, exactly? A big, strong man with scars? So? He is alone, he is apart, and the denial he feels from his creator drives him to do terrible things. Remove that motivation and all you have left is a grouchy man.
Now, I suppose the film could deal with the monster’s feeling of isolation, which would be understandable to some degree, but one has to wonder what he’s been doing for the last two-hundred years if not figuring out where to fit in. Additionally, having a loner character act as savior to the people he hates has been done to death, most recently by Hellboy, which at least has a better comic book pedigree to draw on.
World-building in comtemporary/urban fantasy tales is a tricky thing. Rare are the stories in that genre that I feel do it well (Jim Butcher’s work comes to mind). Too often these stories are the fevered imaginings of the adolescent mind (and not in the good way), beginning with the phrase ‘wouldn’t it be cool if…’ and then trailing off into indulgent, scarcely sane explanations of a normal world containing people with incredible properties. The more egregiously the author violates the ‘normal’ world with the ‘special’ world, the harder suspension of disbelief becomes until, eventually, you get something like this film. This nonsense is just slapped together to the point where you can see the seams in the work, much like Doctor Frankenstein’s stitching is still visible on his creation.
That, then, is the final irony. I, Frankenstein is, itself, a monster. It was made in a laboratory of a different sort – one featuring advertising executives and movie producers instead of scientists. Using laptops and powerpoints instead of beakers and test tubes, they have given life to a creature they intend as beautiful – a blockbuster movie to entertain the masses and coax a river of money to flow into their pockets. Instead, though, they’ve created an ugly thing – something dug up from the grave and not fully understood, made to walk about against its will. Rather than cheer, we recoil in horror. We abandon it in its infancy, leaving it bitter and alone and forgotten in the lower recesses of Comcast’s On-Demand menu. It leaves behind it the corpses of those fools who sought to bring it to life and, as punishment, are relegated to directing Vin Diesel vehicles for the rest of eternity.
Or so we can hope.