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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Frankenstein
Lionsgate Home Entertainment // Unrated // September 13, 2005
List Price: $19.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by John Sinnott | posted October 17, 2005 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:

Once upon a time, Dean Koontz, the popular horror novelist, agreed to create a series for the USA network.  He came up with an interesting twist on the Frankenstein tale and Martin Scorsese signed on as executive producer.  Unfortunately, Koontz and the network had creative differences and left the project.  He agreed to let his concept be used at the network saw fit, as long as his name wasn't attached to it, and Koontz went on to use the concept in a series of books.  USA hired another writer for the project and filmed a pilot movie but the series never materialized.  Now this pilot, Frankenstein, is available on DVD.  While it's not a horrible film, the script is rather weak and the focus of the movie is not where you would expect it.

In present day New Orleans, a killer has murdered three people and removed some of their organs with surgical precision.  Detective Carson O'Conner (Parker Posey) and her partner Michael Sloane (Adam Goldberg) are investigating the murders when an autopsy of the third victim turns up something odd: The man had 2 hearts, bones as strong as cement, and extra organs that made him a superior human.  It turns out that he wasn't human at all, he was created not born.

Dr. Victor Helios (Thomas Kretschmann) is the person that the book Frankenstein was based upon.  He's been using his own techniques to keep himself alive and has been creating more and more creatures, striving for perfection.  His first, original creation though, who now goes by the name Deucalion (Vincent Perez), doesn't like what the doctor is planning on doing, and goes about to stop him.

Right away Deucalion realizes that the serial murderer is another one of Helios' creations and gets in contact with O'Conner.  He feeds her clues as to what the killer is thinking and what his next move might be, though the original monster spends most of his time brooding in the shadows.  It is up to the plucky O'Connor and Sloane to find the killer before he kills again.

Being a made-for-TV movie, and a pilot at that, this film just can't compete with studio films.  It has a much smaller budget in both money and time, and they can't wrap up all of the plot threads since the idea is to get people to tune in the following week.  Taking that into consideration, this is still a mediocre production.  There's just not a lot that they reaches out and grabs you.

The biggest flaw with the film is that the script is very weak.  A lot of the dialog in pretty stupid, but worse than that a lot of it just doesn't make any sense and it is really hard to suspend your disbelief.  They establish that Dr. Victor Helios is a rich, powerful man, yet his laboratory looks like it's housed in an old shack.  It's dirty and grimy and he's practicing medicine?  This is the best he could get?  Deucalion states that he wants to kill Helios but he never even tries to.  What's up with that?

The worst problem I have with the script is that a lot of important information is never shown.  My son's 6th grade English teach keeps drilling into her student's heads that it is better to "show not tell." The writer of this movie should have been in Ms. Wellman's middle school class because he never illustrates vital points, he just has someone mention them.  Helios' creations are miserable, but they never show why.  One bemoans the fact that they aren't human, and another mentions that he feels like he's "missing something" but that's no reason to become a serial killer.  What does that mean anyway? I really couldn't understand most of the character's motivations, especially Deucalion's.

The direction was pretty good overall, taking into account that there can't bee too much blood and gore since this is a TV movie.  Many scenes did have a spooky feel, but it was never as spooky as I was hoping for.

The area where this film really excels is in the set decorations.  The various run down flop houses and abandoned warehouses looked really eerie, and a lot of the quality of the film is due to the great atmosphere that these sets produce.

On the down side, not every set has to be a run down flop house or abandoned warehouse, but that's what happened in this film.  It even got to be difficult to tell when the scenes changed because everything looked so similar.

Don't go into this movie thinking it's a horror show, because it really isn't.  This is a detective program with a few horror elements.  I was very disappointed by that.  With a title like Frankenstein, (even though there isn't a character by that name in the show) I was hoping for a little more creature-feature, and a lot less police show.  This is a cop show where the sleazy informant just happens to be an artificial man.

The DVD:


This DVD offers the choice of a stereo or 5.1 mix, both in English.  I watched the film with the 5.1 track and spot checked the stereo.  They were both good, but not anything special.  The multi-channel mix had a little more atmosphere, but the stereo track seemed to do the job too.  There wasn't any audio defects worth noting.  English and Spanish subtitles are available.


The movie is presented with an anamorphically enhanced widescreen (1.85:1) picture, as it was originally shot and intended to be broadcast.  The picture, like the sound, was good but not spectacular.  The image was clean and crisp and digital defects very minor.  Some details tended to get lost in the dark scenes, of which there are many, but this wasn't a big defect.


Director Marcus Nispel provides a commentary for the movie.  This was actually one of the better commentaries that I've heard recently.  He talked a lot about the problems of shooting a movie, especially a low budget film that's going directly to TV, and related some interesting anecdotes.  I especially enjoyed the stories about how they were able to stretch the budget and some of the money saving ideas they came up with.  This is one of those few commentaries where you actually learn something about the art of film making and I really enjoyed it.

There is also a making-of featurette that runs half an hour.  It's not a total fluff piece, and was mildly interesting.

Final Thoughts:

When all is said and done, this is a very interesting take on the Frankenstein story, but it just doesn't play out as nicely as I'd like it.  Even taking into account that this is a made-for-TV movie and a pilot at that, there just wasn't a hook to get me interested in any of the characters or the plot.  The best part of this disc is the director's commentary, which was very informative and interesting. The movie itself wasn't horrible, just terribly mediocre.  It is worth a rental though.

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