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Gods and Monsters

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Review by Phillip Duncan | posted June 22, 2001 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:

Gods and Monsters, by Bill Condon, is not a movie for everyone, but after saying that I believe it is a film that everyone should see. It deals with uncomfortable issues like homosexuality, death, and incontinence in a frank, in-your-face manner that makes no apologies. It will likely offend some, make even more uncomfortable at times and in the end it may make think about things that you have never though about before.

The film is the somewhat fictionalized story of the last days in the life of director James Whale. Whale directed many successful movies during his career in Hollywood, none more successful than Frankenstein and its sequel Bride of Frankenstein. Bride is considered by many –myself included- to be one of the finest examples of a horror/sci-fi film ever made. It's a combination of in-jokes, sexual innuendos and thoughts on life and death were extremely ahead of its time.

When the film starts, Whale (Sir Ian McKellen) is recovering from a stroke that has left him hallucination both visually and olfactory, at time he sees and smells things from his past. He is alone now, excepting for his maid (Lynne Redgrave) that constantly takes care of him and looks the other way regarding his tastes in life. The lonely Whale becomes enamored with the new gardener Boone (Brenden Fraser) and attempt to draw him into his life by. Through a sequence of hallucinations we learn that perhaps Whale only wants someone to help "fix" him, someone to replace his afflicted brain with newer and better memories.

Boone is star-struck by Whale when he learns who the director is and hesitantly agrees to pose for Whale, allowing him to draw his face. Boone's friends think that perhaps Whale is making advances at Boone, although he himself believes no such thing. After discovering the truth about Whales sexuality, Boone agrees to continue seeing Whale on the provision that they each know where the intimate lines are drawn.

As Whale condition continues to decline, the director storyboards one last great directorial effort in his hallucination-riddled mind. He will direct one more great performance, one that will take him to the grave. He will turn Boone into his greatest monster.

Their friendship harmlessly continues, with each of them growing more comfortable around the other. At times, having fun with those around them that suspect there is more to the relationship than there really is. After spending a day together, the two return to Whales house to find the housekeeper gone. Boone agrees to stay with the weakening Whale to assure that he makes it through the night. When he drops his guard for once, Whale strikes. He viciously directs Boone to violence, waiting for a desired reaction. As Boone realizes what is happening, he calms the old director and puts him to bed. He then falls asleep downstairs and isn't awakened until the next day by the housekeeper. They then both discover what has happened to Whale.

The film ends several years later with Boone watching one of the Frankenstein films with his son. As Boone goes outside into the rain to take out the trash, the film ends on an unbelievably poignant note that sums up Boones feelings toward Whale when he knew him. This is one of the most memorable and visually enjoyable moments in any film I have ever seen and have watched the movie several more times in anticipation of the end scene.

As I stated above, this movie will not be for everyone. The film, while not graphic, makes no excuses about Whales sexuality and how he attempts to use it. There are no visually disturbing images, only thematic ones. Boone is forced to deal with situations that some would feel uncomfortable in as well, and that is what makes certain parts of the film difficult. It forces you to deal with these issues as well and does not attempt to hide them, but instead brings them into the climax of the film flawlessly. The plot combines elements of Whales life, with what it means to create and direct others, and the idea of Frankenstein incredibly well. The idea that a man can make another into a monster and that one person can be directed in life –as in film- are ideas that come to fruition in this movie. It's a film that deserves to be watched over and over again.

The DVD:

The Video:The video is nearly flawless in every aspect. There are many different tones and filters used on the video in this film. We go from present day, to past, to hallucination, and to film multiple times, all the while never getting lost. There is a clear separation and look to each segment that allows for easy, visual identification of the location of every segment. Given those criteria, the transfer is top notch. All the different styles look as good as possible, with only a miniscule amount of transfer artifacts showing up in the brightest scenes. The darks are wonderfully saturated, with no pixelation that can often appear when darks blend into one another. The anamorphic 1:85.1 Widescreen format preserves the original image perfectly as well.

The Audio:While not as aurally stunning as your standard Hollywood action picture, the Dolby Digital 5.1 sound is still well mixed. There is a rich deep base and subtle rear effects when need and the dialog, which at times can be low, is always easily understandable.

The Extras:The only noteworthy extra included is the excellent documentary The World of Gods and Monsters: A Journey with James Whale. It fills in some of the story holes and interviews key personal that adapted Christopher Bram's book, Father of Frankenstein, and brought it faithfully to the screen. It documents famed horror author Clive Barker's involvement with the project as well as providing several behind-the-scenes looks at the key cast and crew of the film.

Overall:This is not a film to miss if you in any way consider yourself a film buff, historian, of horror/sci-fi enthusiast. It will mesmerize you with a tale of a doomed friendship that developed despite all of the obstacles in its way and clue you in what some of the scene in the classic horror movies really mean.
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