Kenneth Branagh has indeed created a monster, but not the kind he originally envisioned. A major disappointment creatively, and far from the definitive version of the tale, this lavish but over-wrought melodrama is in many ways less compelling than even a recent made-for-cable movie [Frankenstein, directed by David Wickes, starring Patrick Bergen] and a 1973 miniseries [Frankenstein: The True Story] starring Michael Sarrazin that was less faithful to the source material.
Tackling a Gothic epic as director/co-producer/star, Branagh seems to overreach himself, playing every aspect at an almost operative level that’s too feverish for its own good. In addition, the director and writers seem to get carried away in playing up the story’s romance, at the expense of the horror-action elements.
The beginning proves effective and true to the novel, as a sea captain (Aidan Quinn) exploring the arctic stumbles upon the crazed Victor Frankenstein (Branagh), who recounts his cautionary tale about scientific obsession in detail flashback. The account begins with the death of his mother in childbirth, and Victor’s own longings for his adopted sister (Helena Bonham Carter).
It’s nearly an hour into the film before the creature emerges from the tank, and despite the over-amplified tone, there’s still hope for the movie at that juncture. However, when the monster befriends a simple country family, learning how to speak and read before ultimately going after his creator to seek vengeance, the movie begins to spin wildly out of control.
De Niro’s creature doesn’t even approach the terror factor of his role in Cape Fear, while failing to inspire the empathy that even Boris Karloff – bolts and all – engendered. De Niro’s makeup doesn’t help matters, appearing grotesque but not particularly jarring. Branagh’s own performance is appropriately crazed, while Carter as always proves radiant and engaging. Patrick Doyle’s relentlessly bombastic score is simply overbearing.
1994: Nomination: Best Makeup