It is not a stretch to say that Stuart Beattie’s I, Frankenstein has about as much to do with Mary Shelley’s original as the finest Petits fours produced by a scratch bakery have to do with Twinkies. The film does not suffer from a lack of interesting ideas because it has them in spades. The film doesn’t lack for creative work because the production design is stellar and really lovely along with a strong, well-balanced score. The film isn’t universally poorly acted and instead sports great turns by Bill Nighy, Miranda Otto and a smattering of other cast members. So with all these things going for it, why is the end result so frustrating and uninspiring?
Two words – the script.
The exposition-heavy, clunky-as-a-rule script drags every aspect of the production down to a point at which humor comes out of humorless situations and every death or plot twist is regurgitated ad-nauseum to make really sure we’re clear on it all. It was almost comical to have the most unnatural of dialogue spew out of just about every character at one point or other. I may have missed it but I’m pretty sure no characters in the film suffer from temporary blindness so the constant explaining of everything is grating and never stops. It would make sense if some characters couldn’t actually see what was happening around them to have so damned much exposition but since that isn’t the case, it is just an exercise in patience throughout the runtime.
Setting aside the exposition explosion for a second, the other trouble with the script is that they essentially had two stories going and tried to smush them together into one narrative idea. This was not a good idea. The Frankenstein part of the story centers around a moody, cranky monster that displays a wide range of understanding and of feral simplicity often in the same sequences. His brooding meanness is only relieved at a couple of moments in the film which makes him less of an anti-hero and more of a fussy teenager. Eckhart does his best with what he is given but the arc from the monster’s creation to the modern-day battle is essentially non-sensical and weighs any type of character development way down. The second aspect of the story is an interesting one – gargoyles and demons exist in this kind of perpetual heaven and hell type of battle that brings old world myth and legend into modern-day technology in an interesting kind of a way.
One could argue that the monster’s way of being does play a role in this battle for control of earth but the connection between the two is a thin thin stretch even if you’re being charitable. So what you have is a central character that doesn’t need to be in the film, a good versus evil battle that is not uninteresting but not connected to real people by and large and a goofy script that doesn’t balance either story with any amount of logic.
So is the movie an unmitigated disaster? No, actually it is kind of entertaining in its way. This might seem counterintuitive given all that I’ve said to this point but one cannot deny the entertainment value of dumb-headed action for action’s sake. Stopping to think is not recommended with this film. You have aerial gargoyles battling red-eyed demons looking like extras from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and all of it for the fate of mankind with nary a representative present outside of a handful of scientists working on regeneration for a shadowy company that is never explained one bit.
No, none of this sounds appealing on its surface but dammit if it wasn’t kind of fun at times. The film did make me smile at moments and wasn’t the worst way to kill an hour and a half. It was, however, the worst way to kill a couple of good ideas and solid performances by actors who deserved better material.