Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

BUY AT: Amazon.com Amazon.ca

See more details, packaging, or compare

Synopsis

Be Warned… It’s Alive!

Kenneth Branagh leads an all-star cast including Robert De Niro, Helena Bonham Carter, Tom Hulce, Ian Holm, John Cleese and Aidan Quinn in his definitive cinematic version of Mary Shelley’s classic tale of gothic terror.

At the turn of the 19th century, visionary scientist Victor Frankenstein (Kenneth Branagh) embarks on an obsessive quest to conquer the mysteries of human mortality. But his hubristic bid to create life out of death goes hideously wrong, and succeeds only in begetting a deformed monster (Robert De Niro).

Horrified by what he has wrought, the scientist attempts to destroy his creation, but fails. Rejected by his creator and shunned by the world of man, the tormented creature swears vengeance against Frankenstein and his family. As the monster begins to enact his murderous revenge, Victor must face a terrible reckoning with the tragic consequences of attempting to play God.

Mary Shelley's seminal novel is one of the most adapted books of all time, and this retelling faithfully goes back to the original source, lushly transforming the story's twin themes of love and death into a darkly operatic gothic romance.

Unlike many versions of Shelley's novel, Branagh's adaptation understands that Frankenstein's misbegotten creation is as pitiable as he is monstrous, and never loses sight of the human tragedy lying at the core of its horrific tale. Filled with sweeping, atmospheric visuals and powerfully emotional performances from an award-winning ensemble of acting talent, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein stands as a landmark interpretation of this enduring masterpiece.

Picture 9/10

Kenneth Branagh’s attempt at a more faithful adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein receives a lovely new 4K UHD edition from Arrow Video, who present the film on a triple-layer disc in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Arrow is using a new 4K restoration performed by Sony and they deliver it here with Dolby Vision and a 2160p/24hz ultra high-definition encode.

I haven’t seen the film in a very long time so I wasn’t all that sure what we would get here but Arrow’s disc delivers one hell of a presentation. The improved dynamic range, thanks to HDR and Dolby Vision, is probably the aspect that most sticks out. The film is, unsurprisingly, very dark and loves its smoke and mist and all that great moody stuff, but that sometimes doesn't translate all that well to digital. The higher dynamic range ends up aiding in delivering those details, with the gradients in the smoke and mist smoothly blending into the backdrop, shown wonderfully in the film’s arctic bookend sequences. This all comes out looking incredibly natural. The darker interiors, like Frankenstein’s lab, also come out looking stunning, the minimal light shifting beautifully through the interiors, wonderfully illuminating and highlighting edges here and there, with slight shifts in the darker shadows to expose those finer details. The same holds true in the forest settings, and a later sequence in an ice cave. The wide range also nicely helps in other areas, whether its in how the sun illuminates the interiors of the Frankenstein mansion, or how it increases detail in the flames that ignite in a hallway later on.

It looks great but it would of course be all for nothing if the base presentation itself wasn’t solid, but I’m happy to say it too looks exceptional. It’s a fairly grainy film, and it can look a bit chunky in places (maybe due to opticals, title cards, or film stock) but it’s rendered cleanly a lot of the time, and this of course leads to an exceptional level of detail. The close-ups of De Niro’s face, post resurrection, look impressive, those stitches and scars are fantastic while the details in the plague-ridden villages leap out. There are a handful of softer, dupey looking shots scattered about, but they're few and far between. The restoration has also cleaned up damage, nothing of note remaining.

I can’t say my expectations were all that high but this has really turned out wonderfully, the image best benefitting from the wider dynamic range.

[SDR screen grabs have been taken from the source disc converted to JPG files. They are presented in full resolution and may not properly fit some monitors. While the screen grabs should offer a general idea of quality, they should not be used for reference purposes.]

Audio 8/10

Arrow includes a lossless PCM stereo soundtrack along with a DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround soundtrack. I only listened to the 5.1 track.

The mix isn’t as active as I would have expected, most audio focused to the fronts, though with nice movement between the speakers when necessary. There are some decent ambient effects popping up in the rears during the lab sequences and in the city settings where crowds gather, but its Patrick Doyle’s score that probably takes the most advantage of the sound field, and there’s some wonderful range to be found in there.

Extras 8/10

The film kind of came and went and is rarely spoken of NOW, but I was always surprised by how it’s never received any sort of special edition. Arrow corrects that, loading on a good amount of content with the aim of reassessing the film, things starting off with a brand-new audio commentary featuring film historian Michael Brooke and Johnny Mains. The two use the track to talk about the original novel and the various film adaptations done through the years, with a special focus on Branagh’s of course. There’s discussion around the original story’s release, its impact, and the barriers it broke, with references to historical records and scientific innovations of the period that more than likely influenced it. This then leads to discussion on the many film adaptations, from an early Edison silent to James Whale’s famous adaptation, with mention of Mel Brooks’ own take. The two also provide an examination of elements unique to the film adaptations, like, for example, how references to brain injuries are unique to the films, and then also go over elements unique to the novel, which presented the story from multiple points-of-view, including the shockingly eloquent monster. In between all of this they also find time to talk about specific aspects of Branagh’s production, going over set design and structure, the liberties his adaptation takes (particularly in the last act) and even look at De Niro’s performance as the creature, getting into the research he conducted. I also like how they point out the elements that come straight from the book but are only found in this film adaptation, and even explain why they haven't appeared in others. The two work great together, tossing topics off of each other and keeping things going at a good pace. It did also help me in gaining a bit of a new appreciation for the film—one I’ve been generally indifferent to—all thanks to the two focusing on its stronger characteristics.

Arrow then includes a couple of new video features expanding on the topics covered in the commentary, presenting gothic specialists Jonathan Rigby, David Pirie, and Stephen Volk talking about the novels and many film adaptations. The 29-minute feature Mary Shelley and the Creation of a Monster is the general one, going over the novel, its origins and then how its been adapted through the decades, its themes capturing imaginations. The 16-minute Dissecting Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is a sort of continuation from the previous feature though focuses exclusively on Branagh’s film. The feature, more or less, goes over what Branagh gets right and what doesn’t work (for starters there’s a feeling that Branagh can get too showy), and even what improves over the original novel, the dialogue in the novel singled out as being particularly dreadful. Both together do a great job of offering some history around the novel and many films but doesn’t cover all of the same material covered in the commentary, making all of the material still worth going through.

Arrow also includes interviews with three members of the crew, including costume designer James Acheson, make-up artist Daniel Parker, and composer Patrick Doyle, running 15-minutes, 14-minutes, and 12-minutes. The three cover their respective duties on the film and how they approached the material, Acheson concerned about taking the film into “Jane Austen territory.” They’re decent, quick reflections on the film and the difficulties around some aspects, like the make-up for the “birthing” scene, but it’s a little sad, though not all that surprising, Arrow was unable to get interviews with any of the cast.

In a particularly nice touch, Arrow also includes the 1910 Thomas Edison adaptation of Frankenstein, mentioned in the commentary, and presented in 4K from a newer scan. Running 13-minutes the general story is similar: Dr. Frankenstein reanimates a corpse, a skeleton in this case, and abandons it only to have it track him down later. Interestingly the film uses an elixir to reanimate the monster in place of electricity, and the ending is a bit odd to say the least. Still, despite all of that, it’s an interesting take on the premise, with some clever-for-the-time effects, including what appears to be some stop-motion. The material is still rough but we do get a nice enough scan.

Closing the disc off are two trailers for the film along with a small gallery presenting production photos.

The included booklet then features an essay on the adaptation, written by Jon Towlson, who feels Arrow’s edition may help in bringing about a reappraisal after addressing criticisms thrown at it through the years, including screenwriter Frank Darabont’s own issues. Amy C. Chambers then provides the booklets second essay, focusing on the film’s theme around “explorers,” whether it be Aidan Quinn’s Walton exploring the North Pole or Branagh’s Frankenstein desire to cheat death through science. She also points out (as the commentary does) how the film works following the worst of a pandemic. The booklet ends up adding a good amount of value, though is limited to first pressings.

Again, it is a little disappointing Arrow couldn’t get interviews with Branagh or any members of the cast, but Arrow has put in an impressive effort in coming to the film's defence.

Closing

Arrow's special edition works to reassess the film, aided by a stunner of a 4K presentation.

BUY AT: Amazon.com Amazon.ca

 
 
Directed by: Kenneth Branagh
Year: 1994
Time: 123 min.
 
Series: Arrow Video
Licensor: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Release Date: April 12 2022
MSRP: $49.95
 
4K UHD Blu-ray
1 Disc | UHD-100
1.85:1 ratio
English 2.0 PCM Stereo
English 5.1 DTS-HD MA Surround
Subtitles: English
Region None
 
 Brand new audio commentary by film historians Michael Brooke and Johnny Mains   Brand new interview with composer Patrick Doyle   Brand new interview with costumer designer James Acheson   Brand new interview with make-up designer Daniel Parker   Mary Shelley and The Creation of a Monster, a brand new documentary featurette on the origins and evolution of the Frankenstein story, featuring Gothic specialists David Pirie, Jonathan Rigby and Stephen Volk   Dissecting Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, a brand new featurette with David Pirie, Jonathan Rigby and Stephen Volk on the differences between the novel and Kenneth Branagh’s screen adaptation   Frankenstein: A Liberal Adaptation from Mrs. Shelley’s Famous Story for Edison Production (1910): The first screen adaptation of Shelley’s story in a 2K restoration by the Library of Congress, with music by Donald Sosin   Original trailers   Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Laz Marquez   Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Jon Towlson and Amy C. Chambers