I, Frankenstein (US - BD RA)
Gabe suffers through the Frankenstein version of the Underworld formula...
200 years after Dr. Frankenstein's shocking creation came to life, celestial forces name the creature Adam and arm him with weapons to defeat the demons that are constantly seeking his destruction. However, Adam soon finds himself in the middle of a war over the fate of humanity and discovers that he also holds the key that could destroy humankind. (From Lionsgate’s official synopsis)
The strangest thing about the Underworld movies is that so many of them seem to want us to take them seriously, despite being inherently ridiculous on a conceptual level. Similarly ridiculous films, like Tommy Wirkola’s Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters or Stephen Sommers’ Van Helsing (any of Sommers’ movies, really), tend to be tolerable, because they’re willing to acknowledge their stupid streaks and laugh at themselves along with their audiences. I’m not saying that silly concepts are unworthy of dramatic approaches, but the manufactured somber mood of the Underworld franchise (one aging British character actor aside…) is exhausting and boring. Bereft (however briefly) of Underworld movies, the franchise’s producers have moved on to another one of writer Kevin Grevioux’s classic monster ‘re-imaginings’ – one that borrows from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and vague Biblical legend (in the Prophecy tradition, it seems), instead of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and werewolf myths. Grevioux also snags the villain’s plan from the aforementioned Van Helsing and Beattie takes credit for stealing elements from the ‘90s animated series, Gargoyles (without acknowledging that the show exists, of course). The results are just as muddled, unoriginal, and, of course, boringly straight-faced as Underworld, yet magnified, thanks to the universal law of diminished returns.
I, Frankenstein is every inch an Underworld stand-in, including all the dopey, exposition-heavy mythology, a plot device that essentially turns a major character into a MacGuffin (Adam and Underworld's Michael Corvin are interchangeable on a plot level), angst-ridden performances, and sub- Matrix action we’ve come to expect (rumour has it that a cross-over might have been in the works, before I, Frankenstein flopped at the box office). This time, however, Grevioux (who appears as one of the film’s main heavies, Dekar) is only partially to blame for the on-paper stupidity. He shares a story credit with director Stuart Beattie, who holds the sole screenwriting credit. This is only Beattie’s second time behind the camera, following Tomorrow, When the War Began, an Australian action/drama that sounds an awful lot like Red Dawn. He seems to be a capable technical director – his special-effects-enhanced sets and actors are plainly and sometimes quite handsomely captured in his widescreen frame without excessive camera shake to ruin the impact of the fight sequences (the excessive CG does that without any additional help…) – but he and editor Marcus D'Arcy appear to have no sense of rhythm in regards to storytelling or standalone action. I, Frankenstein is both relentlessly-paced and interminably dull – a seemingly impossible feat shared by a number of other disposable, high-concept action movies.
Random, vaguely connected events (most of them action set pieces) zip by so quickly that there’s no time to absorb any of the expositional information. During the extremely busy first act, mere minutes separate hundreds of years of in-film time, which brings more attention to plot holes and the lack of character development. This is mostly frustrating, but also inadvertently funny when the actors spout the names of characters the audience has no possibility of remembering. Honestly, the names could be changing with every other sentence and I wouldn’t know it, because there’s no time to make the distinction between the demon/gargoyle names. The lazy casting actually helps Beattie cut to the quick in terms of defining his characters. Bill Nighy plays the same guy he played in Underworld, Miranda Otto plays another benevolent fantasy princess, and Jai Courtney plays another angsty meathead. Efforts are once again muddled, because the on-the-nose supporting players are led by two catastrophically miscast leads in Aaron Eckhart and Yvonne Strahovski. Eckhart seems to have modeled his performance on Grumpy Cat web videos and Strahovski (who has the films one joke) is an early frontrunner for 2014’s Denise Richards’ Unlikely Lady Scientist award. As if the film wasn’t already muddy enough, it’s also almost impossible to differentiate the locations – an editing issue compounded by the ‘sameness’ of most of the sets and lack of life on the streets. Characters might be traveling vast distances for important reasons, but it seems just as likely that they’re crossing the street with incidental purpose, because it appears that every building is in view of the others.
I, Frankenstein was shot on Red Epic digital HD cameras and post-converted for 3D exhibition. This Blu-ray features the 3D and 2D versions of the film, both in 1080p, 2.40:1 video, but I am only reviewing the 2D version. Beattie and cinematographer Ross Emery often embrace the format’s high rate of detail, but also leave many of their backgrounds smooth enough to hide flimsy sets and unfinished digital effects. When they’re meant to be sharp, though, textures are very complex with tight edges and little notable haloing. There are odd digital artefacts, including the expected digital noise between foreground and background plates and unexpected ghosting effects, both of which make me wonder if this is a 2D version of the 3D conversion, instead of a straight dupe of the original material (the producer’s commentary even mentions the ghosting problem they had with the 3D material). The colour palette is bland, taking its cues from the extremely blue Underworld movies, along with the more recent digital blockbuster propensity for oranges and teals. Despite the dreariness, these limited hues are well-represented. When elements need to be separated, the edges are perfectly cut and, when they are meant to blend, they mix with minimum banding or blocking. The differentiations between more delicate hues, like the occasionally natural skin tones, and the more stylized ones, like those ugly teals, are actually quite impressive, as are the deep black leves.
I, Frankenstein is presented here in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound. The aggressive and continuously busy soundtrack is among the film’s few highlights. The aural landscape vibrates with multi-channel engulfing, supernatural elements. Many of these effects, like the whooshing sound of a dying demon (they turn into a swirl of fire for some reason), threaten to overwhelm the track entirely and, indeed, they are set a bit too loud when they land in the center channel, but the immersive ambience and music is rarely lost beneath the screaming creatures and smashing weapons. Smaller, more incidental effects are similarly punchy and loud. This is particularly amusing when the crinkle of Bill Nighy’s clothing is comparatively deafening. The vocal track is even and centered, though still demonstrates heavy aural impact when supernatural characters speak in stereo-infused supernatural voices. Johnny Klimek and Reinhold Heil’s music is generic in terms of motifs and melodies, but certainly gets the job done with big, stirring noise and sounds quite rich on this track. As I mentioned, the louder effects are certainly powerful, but they do not drown out the intricacies of the instrumentations.
- Commentary with co-writer/director Stuart Beattie – The director’s commentary is perfectly pleasant and very well-prepared track that covers the basic ins and outs of the production. Beattie does a good job pacing himself and evenly spreads the facts over the 92-minute runtime without many pauses or too much repetition. His approach is so fact-driven that it may be too dry for some listeners, but he isn’t a stiff speaker.
- Commentary with producers Gary Lucchesi and Richard Wright, visual effects supervisor James McQuaide, and co-writer/actor Kevin Grevioux – This group commentary is less focused and features longer silent spaces, but the looser atmosphere is more entertaining overall. There’s quite a bit of overlap between the tracks, so I’d suggest choosing one track over the other based on their tone alone (i.e. the first one is straight-forward, the second one is a smidge more ‘fun’).
- Creating a Monster (13:00, HD) – A look at the film’s character/creature design, prosthetic make-up application, costume design, and CG effects.
- Frankenstein's Creatures (14:20, HD) – A more generalized and fluffy behind-the-scenes featurette with the producers, writers, director, and cast.
- Trailers for other Lionsgate releases
I, Frankenstein is more of an annoying swath of pictures and sounds than a proper movie. It is at once too hastily paced to make sense of and too unoriginal to care about. Only a handful of nicely orchestrated images and some charming creature make-up effects keep it from being an absolute failure. In better news, this Blu-ray combo pack does feature a nice looking 2D transfer (aside from some digital 3D artefacts) and a bombastic DTS-HD MA soundtrack. The extras are less impressive.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13
Release Date: 13th May 2014
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Extras: Co-Writer/Director Commentary, Producer/Co-Writer/Effects Supervisor Commentary, Creating a Monster, Trailers, DVD Copy, UltraViolet Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: Stuart Beattie
Cast: Aaron Eckhart, Bill Nighy, Yvonne Strahovski, Miranda Otto, Socratis Otto, Jai Courtney, Kevin Grevioux
Genre: Action, Fantasy and Horror
Length: 93 minutes
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