Frankenstein (2004)Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 09/10/05 17:28:14
If ever you’re looking to frustrate your audience, here’s one way you could go: Plan to make a TV series named after a famous pop culture icon, only it has no tangible connection to said icon other than a few loosely borrowed themes. Make your pilot episode a two-hour job that ends with a cliffhanger of sorts. Then cancel your series before you even make it and release the pilot as a TV movie. And as a kicker, don’t tell anyone about your aborted series idea or the cliffhanger ending. Finally, dump the whole thing on video, so you can befuddle a whole new unsuspecting audience.This is the incredible story behind “Frankenstein,” which debuted in its final form on the USA Network in 2004 and is just now finding its way onto the video market. The origins of the film are infinitely more interesting than the film itself, which, aside from a few bits of slick mystery and an overall brooding tone that almost helps sell the story, turns out to be little more than another limp “Seven” wannabe.
The quick version goes like this. Horror writer Dean Koontz was looking to create a television series that updated Mary Shelley’s legend to modern day New Orleans, the hook being that Shelley’s creation was based in part on an actual scientist who’s still alive and has been cranking out new monsters for some two centuries. Alas, Development Hell sank in, and while the author allowed the network to keep his idea, “Dean Koontz’ Frankenstein” became, merely, “Frankenstein.” (Also hurting: Martin Scorsese, who was to executive produce, also walked out when Koontz did.)
Still, the series had much going for it - Parker Posey signed on to star; Vincent Perez would appear as the doctor’s original creation; Michael Madsen landed a major guest star role; and Marcus Nispel, hot off his “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” remake, was hired to direct the pilot. But it was not enough. USA canned the series, but not until after filming the pilot, which the network hoped to pass off as a standalone movie. Never mind that aside from some bits of dialogue, the film had nothing to do with Shelley - and never mind that Hallmark was set to air an actual Shelley adaptation, also using the “Frankenstein” title, a mere five days before this one premiered. Oh, and the video premiere continues the movie’s streak of bad luck, this Louisiana-based story landing on shelves two weeks after Hurricane Katrina.
And remember: that’s the “quick version” of the backstory. Sheesh.
As for the movie itself, very little works. Nispel brings with him a knack for moody imagery that helped make his “Chainsaw” so effective (although the opening credits are too laughably like a Nine Inch Nails video, trying way too hard to set the mood), the casting of Adam Goldberg as the wisecracking sidekick wins a few points, and the basic mystery elements of the film’s first half do manage to draw you in. The script, by former “X-Files” staff writer John Shiban, makes good use of the whodunit set-up (there’s a series of seemingly connected murders, the victims all having strange lives themselves, and it is, at first, curious enough to become slightly involving).
But it’s too hampered by the necessity to incorporate a larger picture that, without a follow-up series, never gets to play out. Once the moody monster (Perez) shows up, things begin to drag - a drag doubled by the arrival of our villain, Dr. Helios (Thomas Kretschmann), a character who’s given too much attention up front and not nearly enough in the final act, once the action settles on what looks like the first Bad Guy of the Week. There’s also an entire subplot developed regarding Posey’s autistic brother; unless it was designed to be a red herring, it winds up making little sense, another abandoned idea.
Oh, and then there’s the ending, which gets everything in place for a second episode that never comes. I had not known that this was a cancelled series when I watched, so the finale was intolerably baffling, so much so that I had to rewind and catch it twice. That nobody bothered to fix this during the change from TV pilot to TV movie indicates that this was ultimately a forgotten project dumped onto the public in the hopes of recuperating a few bucks.
Could “Frankenstein” have worked as a series? Judging from the movie, probably not. Unless some serious developments were planned for the rest of the first season, there’s nothing here to indicate an enjoyable series. Posey’s hero is too flat, Kretschmann’s villain is too silly, and Perez’ monster is too forgettable. The whole thing would’ve been nothing more than a new murder mystery each week, and considering how the mystery found in this movie runs out of steam halfway through, I’d guess that anything that followed would be equally disappointing. At least it leaves room for more “Walker, Texas Ranger” reruns.None of this series talk matters one bit, because “Frankenstein,” in its final form, is presented as its own TV movie. And the sad truth is that this TV movie doesn’t work. It starts off on a decent level but quickly sinks once all the characters are in place. It leaves us frustrated. It bores us. On cable, it would get viewers anxious to change the channel. On video, it gets viewers eager to hit eject.
|© Copyright HBS Entertainment, Inc.|