Release Date(s)1994 (April 12, 2022)
Studio(s)TriStar Pictures (Arrow Video)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: A-
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein could have been a continuation in a series of projects that re-interpreted the Universal Monsters line up for a new audience. After the success of Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Tri-Star Pictures and American Zoetrope took a script penned by Steph Lady that was later re-written by Frank Darabont and installed Kenneth Branagh in the director’s chair. The result was a mildly successful financially but disappointing critically film that, like its predecessor, hoped to re-invent one of the classic movie monster stories of old. A strange beast of a film, it didn’t have anywhere near the lasting impact of its predecessor.
To date, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein remains the most faithful adaptation of the original novel, which unfortunately affects the pace of the film. Its first hour seems to be rushing towards the conclusion of the eventual experiment in which the monster is created, then slows down in the second hour to examine the characters. Unsurprisingly, this is the most effective section of the film. Style over substance is also in play. Bram Stoker’s Dracula managed to mix narrative and style more or less effectively, but the results here are mixed. Lavish costumes, enormous sets, unusual lighting and color, sweeping camera moves, and unorthodox angles clash with the story. It’s clear that Kenneth Branagh was really going for the throat, even tossing in a surprising dose of Grand Guignol to the finale.
The majority of the performances are strong, including those from Helena Bonham Carter and Ian Holm, though Robert De Niro never really inhabits the elaborate and impressive prosthetic make-up that he adorns. As game as he is, you never forget who it is behind all of that. Despite its shortcomings, it’s still refreshing to see a Frankenstein tale use its source material more fruitfully, discarding decades of iconography to do something new. It’s certainly a flawed film, there’s no question about that, but it’s far more interesting than most of the Frankenstein films made outside the confines of Universal Pictures and Hammer Productions.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was shot by cinematographer Roger Pratt on 35 mm film using Arriflex 35-III and Panavision Panaflex cameras with Panavision Primo lenses, finished photochemically, and presented in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Arrow Video brings the film to Ultra HD from a new 4K scan and restoration of the original camera negative, which was finished as a 4K Digital Intermediate and graded for high dynamic range (HDR10 and Dolby Vision options are available). Grain is thick and not always as tightly-knit as typical Arrow or Sony-sourced transfers, but the majority of the film has a pleasing filmic look. Transitions also have an inherent softness, taken from interpositive elements as is the custom. The color palette offers bold uses of blue, red, and green in the various landscapes and interiors, particularly in and around the Frankenstein home. The new HDR pass exhibits far more dimension and nuance in the various hues, increasing detail in the golden-tinged fireside moments and in lush forested areas alike. Flesh tones are mixed, depending upon the grade of individual scenes. Everything appears clean and stable with deep contrast and healthy blacks. It’s a lovely presentation.
Audio is included in English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and 2.0 LPCM with optional subtitles in English SDH. (The film was also released theatrically in Sony’s 8 channel SDDS format.) The 5.1 track is an upmix from 2009, meaning that it’s the same track that was included on Sony’s previous Blu-ray release. It’s a spacious track that certainly opens things up with regards to score and sound effects, and adds ambient immersion when needed. Dialogue exchanges are clear and precise as well. The 2.0 track is a more compact experience and likely the way the majority of people heard the film in the theater in 1994.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein on 4K Ultra HD sits in a black amaray case with a 36-page booklet containing cast and crew information, the essays ‘Hideous Progeny’: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein by Jon Towlson and “P.S. I Am Not Mad”: Playing God in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein by Amy C. Chambers, restoration information, and production credits. The double-sided insert features new artwork by Laz Marquez on the front and the original theatrical artwork on the reverse. The following extras are included:
- Audio Commentary with Michael Brooke and Johnny Mains
- Mary Shelley and the Creation of a Monster (HD – 29:37)
- Dissecting Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (HD – 15:33)
- Frankenstein (1910) (HD – 12:55)
- Stitching Frankenstein (HD – 14:53)
- We’ll Go No More a Roving (HD – 12:40)
- Making It All Up (HD – 14:22)
- Trailer #1 (HD – 1:29)
- Trailer #2 (Upscaled SD – 1:54)
- Image Gallery (HD – 16 in all – 2:41)
The audio commentary with writer and critic Michael Brooke and author Johnny Mains is absolutely stuffed with information, most of it pertaining to Mary Shelley and the original novel, and the differences therein. They also discuss the actors and the crew, as well as the interpretation of the original novel by other filmmakers. It’s a very energetic and informative track. In Mary Shelley and the Creation of a Monster, David Pirie, Stephen Volk, and Jonathan Rigby discuss the origins of Gothic literature, the creation of the Frankenstein novel, and the impact that the many film adaptations had on popular culture. In Dissecting Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the three men return to examine Kenneth Branagh’s version of the story. The 1910 short silent version of Frankenstein presented here comes from a nitrate print held by the Library of Congress. In Stitching Frankenstein, costume designer James Acheson talks about almost missing his initial meeting when interviewing for the job on the film, what his job entailed in relationship to the cast and crew, the importance of the period in which the story takes place, the origin of the monster’s coat, and working with the actors. In We’ll Go No More a Roving, composer Patrick Doyle plays selections from the score while talking about visiting the set for inspiration, the main theme, playing music on the set, his approach to the score, and his memories of the recording sessions. In Making It All Up, make-up effects artist Daniel Parker speaks about his early training, design work for the film, aspects of the make-up for the monster, working with the crew, the application of the make-up, and the importance of prosthetics. The Image Gallery contains 16 promotional photos for the film.
Arrow Video’s 4K Ultra HD release of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein offers a substantial upgrade in both the visuals and extras department, particularly the latter as previous home video versions of the film were mostly bare bones outside of one of the film’s trailers. It’s an excellent disc.
- Tim Salmons