Few names in literature are more widely known than Frankenstein. Powered by the success of Mary Shelley's books, hundreds of plays, and dozens of film adaptations, there are few people who couldn't give you at least a passing description of the basic story of Frankenstein and his terrible creation. For those who want to know more this fictional personage, The History Channel has helpfully provided this disc, Frankenstein: The Real Story.
Included on the disc are actually three features: In Search of the Real Frankenstein at forty five minutes, Frankenstein at just under forty four minutes, and It's Alive! The True Story of Frankenstein at ninety six minutes.
The first feature, In Search of the Real Frankenstein spends the most time talking about what true events might have inspired Shelley when she was writing the book. Mostly, these were electrical experiments with the corpses of animals and people, by such scientists as Luigi Galvani, his more theatrical nephew Giovanni Aldini, Scotsman Andrew Ure and the fellow who actually grew up in the real Frankenstein castle, Konrad Dippel. While there are a number of interviews with historians and others, this one is super dramatic and overwrought, with ominous narration and overbearing music. While there is a lot of information here, there is also quite a bit of baseless speculation. This is the least interesting of the three.
The second feature, Frankenstein, is much more sedate. It covers a lot of the same information, such as the electrical experiments and science of the time, but its focus is much more on Mary Shelley herself, her childhood, relationship with Percy Shelley, and the environment she was in when writing the novel. The story of her scandalous elopement with Percy, the initial anonymous release of the book, and her modest life after Percy's death are all explored. The impact of her characters and story on the popular culture is touched on, but briefly.
The third feature, It's Alive! The True Story of Frankenstein is the longest, and by far the most engaging. This one is all about the adaptations of Shelley's book, on stage, in film and on television. Roger Moore hosts, and honestly isn't called on to do much, and there are interviews with Mel Brooks, Gene Wilder, special effects wizard Rick Baker, film historian David Skal, Boris Karloff's daughter Sara, Kenneth Branagh, Peter Bogdanovich, and more.
Of course, the prototypical Universal film is discussed, along with its sequel, and eventual pairing up with Abbot and Costello. The Hammer movies are highlighted, The Munsters television show, and numerous other efforts. A lot of time is spent talking with historians, film buffs, etc., getting at the inside story of these shows, along with audio from a lot of interviews with now-dead people, whose voices are provided by voice actors. This is all very interesting and well presented. Perhaps it speaks to the obsession with pop culture in our postmodern age (or perhaps just my own obsession) that the feature that spends the most time talking about how Shelley's work has been adapted and reformatted is the most engaging.
Regardless, if you are someone that would like to know a little bit more about Mary Shelley and her most famous work, and a lot more about all the films, television shows and plays that have been inspired by it, then this is definitely the disc to buy. Recommended.
Video is presented in 1.33:1 standard, and looks pretty good. These are all made for television features, and have the production value and quality that one would expect for a cable television documentary show. No obvious problems can be seen.
Audio is Dolby digital 2 channel, and similarly is of decent quality, but nothing outstanding. English subtitles are included, but no alternate language tracks.
The only extras included are previews for History Channel shows Houdini and Big History and the theatrical film I, Frankenstein.
The three features included here are of varying quality, but none of them are really bad. They present a wide array of information about Mary Shelley and her impact on our shared culture. The three together represent a couple of fun hours for people interested in the subject.