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As a filmmaker, Kenneth Branagh has masterly adapted Shakespeare to the screen like no one else; his HAMLET is one of the truly great cinematic achievements. Branagh has also scored a success with his Hitchcockian thriller DEAD AGAIN, as well as droll little comedies like A MIDWINTER'S TALE. With MARY SHELLEY’S FRANKENSTEIN ($28), Branagh brings a fluid and sumptuous visual style that invigorates a story that has been played out countless times upon the silver screen. There is hardly a moment in the film where the camera does not seem to be in motion; this draws the viewer into the film as though they were witnessing the events of the story firsthand. Branagh has to be credited for the virtuoso staging of the sequence in which Frankenstein brings his creation to life. It is reminiscent of other films, yet completely new and totally thrilling.

Unlike previous Frankenstein films, the screenplay for MARY SHELLEY’S FRANKENSTEIN is quite faithful to the tragic consequences of the 1818 novel. In fact, the screenplay may be a bit too faithful to the spirit of the novel, resulting in moments of horror that even I found to be unsettling. Kenneth Branagh stars as Victor Frankenstein, a medical school student whose obsession with overcoming death leads to his own personal downfall. Unwilling to accept that death is the one absolute that physicians will never be able to overcome; Frankenstein strives to create life from death. Unable to see beyond this all-consuming obsession, Frankenstein realizes too late that what he has created is an abomination in the eyes of both God and man. As the story reaches its climax, Frankenstein is made to pay for his blasphemy. The creature, realizing that there is no place for him in the world of mankind, sets out to destroy his maker as retribution for an unlivable existence.

Robert De Niro proved to be the ideal choice to play the horrifying, yet ultimately pathetic creature. An actor of De Niro's abilities is what was required to overcome the extensive prosthetic makeup that portrayed the creature as a hideous mockery of a man, stitched together from numerous bodies. De Niro makes the creature live by delivering a performance that proves the soulless being to be the ultimate lost soul. As Frankenstein, Branagh gives an impassioned, almost manic, performance. Together, Branagh and De Niro give their characters a life that never existed in another cinematic adaptation of the story. The beautiful Helena Bonham Carter provides a captivating performance as Victor Frankenstein's fiancée Elizabeth. Branagh and Bonham Carter display a passionate onscreen chemistry that serves this rendering of the story quite well. Branagh's obvious infatuation with Bonham Carter is evidenced whenever she appears on screen, with the camera lovingly caressing the object of his affection.

The phenomenal production design and attention to detail that was lavished upon MARY SHELLEY’S FRANKENSTEIN is obscured by the full screen presentation of the film, rendering it an unsatisfying viewing experience. The anamorphic enhanced wide screen presentation frames the film to its proper aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and retains the cinematic thrill. Roger Pratt's beautiful cinematography creates different moods at different points in the film by using decidedly different light and color schemes. The transfer holds a consistently sharp and well-defined look throughout; thus reproducing moments of warm, richly saturated hues as effortlessly as the moments when the image turns cold and almost colorless. Except for the darkest sequences, there was nary a trace of compression artifacts. MARY SHELLEY’S FRANKENSTEIN sounds far better on DVD, than it did in a movie theater with an impressive sound system.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack has excellent separation across the front, plus clear, natural sounding dialogue reproduction. Bass reproduction is strong, especially during the film’s opening moments, while the surround channels provide ambience and fill out the sound. Additionally, Patrick Doyle’s stirring score is strongly integrated into the mix, however the music has a definite life of its own.

Through the simple interactive menus one can access three theatrical trailers, which are this DVD’s only supplement.




DVD reviews are Copyright © 1999 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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