I apologise for the very long absence. I’m back with a post about something I’m particularly fond of.
I’ve read the book, I’ve watched the questionable film by Kenneth Branagh, I reviewed the 1910 adaptation here and, finally, after months, years! of waiting, I finally had my chance to watch the National Theatre version. In fact, both of them.
Ladies and gentlemen, here is my humble attempt to review Danny Boyle’s Frankenstein.
IMDb rating: 9.2/10
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 97%
Polenta’s rating: some placenta, gears and snow.
(Impressive ratings, uh?)
(National Theatre Live: Frankenstein on IMDb)
Plot (copied from my other review, ’cause I’m lazy):
Come on, we all know the story, right?
A wannabe doctor named Victor Frankenstein goes to college and in the spare time gives life to a creature as an attempt to defeat death. He sees the results, he runs away terrified, the poor creature follows him and asks him for a girlfriend.
In this review, I’d like to focus not on how cool this adaptation is, because it is, but on the differences between the two different versions.
As you may already know, or guessed by the poster, the two main actors, Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller, switch roles and play alternatively Victor Frankenstein and the Creature.
The reason for this choice is that in this way the bond between creator and creature will be stronger until they’ll become so close and similar to each other that we’ll ask ourselves ‘Yes, but who created who? And who’s the real monster?’.
(But after I watched this I suspect the actual reason is that the guy playing the Creature would have been too worn-out doing that every day!)
Above: Ben as the creature, Jonny as Victor.
Below: the opposite.
Before starting the comparison, a little premise.
The version with Cumberbatch as the Creature will be ‘the first’ and the one with Miller as the Creature will be ‘the second’.
Not because of the value of the two versions (actually yes.) but simply because I’ve seen them in that order.
This may have affected my judgement. Maybe I prefer the first version because I watched it, well, for first, so it was all new and wonderful to me (no, it’s just better.) but I’ll try to be as super partes as I can.
My verdict after watching both versions is basically:
the first Creature is more ‘physical’, the second is more ‘mental’.
This is pretty clear from the very beginning of the play, when the Creature is born. After flopping out of some big placenta-like membrane, the creature struggles in his first clunky movements. A blank new-born baby’s mind in a fully grown-up man’s body.
The first version Creature shakes for a long time in painful convulsions. You can see how much he’s suffering, and even standing is a big challenge.
This is pretty upsetting, to be honest.
The second Creature needs less time to learn how to do that, and the pain of the body is replaced by a stronger astonishment of the mind and curiosity about all the new colours, sounds and feelings.
The second Creature tries to speak more than the first, who tends to touch things and ‘feel’ the new reality around him instead of looking at it.
A couple of practical examples:
The first creature, dazed by the new sensations and hungry, devour handfuls of grass.
The second tries few blades of grass and then proceeds to examine a book by playing with it (and chewing it too).
When the Creature finally meets Frankenstein and asks him to make him a companion, the first creature kneels with joined hands, begging him with all his body, while the second as a more reasonable and restrained approach.
I guess I prefer the Ben-Creature/Jonny-Victor combo also because the first is taller than the second, and the Creature is supposed to be made of human parts bigger than normal because it’s easier to put them together.
And I quite liked Jonny Lee Miller as Victor. But.
Sorry, Jonny, but even as Victor there’s a couple of scenes that change completely when played by Cumberbatch. I’ll give you an example.
Victor’s girlfriend, Elizabeth (OMG is that Tia Dalma from Pirates of the Caribbean?!?!) wants desperately him to love her back and give her some attention, but he’s too busy with his Creature, which wants a girlfriend himself.
When she begs him not to leave her alone, he stops for a moment and looks at her.
1) Jonny-Victor seems torn, he truly loves her but he must go and build a female for his Creature, instead of marrying himself with that lovely woman begging him to stay. So he stares at her longingly and says ‘You would make a beautiful wife.’
2) Benedict-Victor has barely noticed she’s in the same room, he’s too concentrate on his shady deeds. Finally, he stares at her, lifts her arm carefully, observes it for a while with an incisive look and mutters almost to himself ‘You would make a beautiful wife.’
You see what I mean? The very same line, but that second time gave me shivers I haven’t felt the first.
In many other things, the second version looks more ‘playful’ than the first.
While they didn’t in the first version, people smiled and laughed at a very cute Creature, childish and sweet.
Actually, Jonny Lee Miller said he tried to make his Creature behave like a child.
That’s why, although I prefer the other version in general, the part when he’s discovering the world is truly touching.
Even if they both have exactly the same lines, the second Creature looks particularly adorable. Like, when the old blind man tells him he knows it’s getting dark because the nightingale is chirping, and he answers ‘The bird makes the dark?! That’s impossible!’.
Or when the man asks him how’s the moon, he replies ‘Solitary. And sad. Like me.’
And you go ‘aww’.
He also learns what the snow is, and he’s so fascinated by it that he can’t stay put, listening to his daily lesson, and runs to catch the snowflakes.
The snow will be back twice. First, as a comparison when, happy and excited to meet his bride, the Creature says ‘All memory of hell will melt like snow’. And, for the second and last time, when he’s chased by Victor to the North Pole, when they’ll face their end together surrounded by ice.
In summary, both versions are just amazing.
I left the cinema completely devastated in body and mind, couldn’t stop thinking about it and still can’t.
And I’m so pissed off they’re not going to release a DVD, because everyone should be able to watch them.
In case you have the chance to go and see both, do it. It’s worth it, and spotting the differences makes it even more interesting (but should you be able to buy just one ticket, I bet you know which one I would suggest you).
Here’s the trailer
And I’ll leave you with a quote, because it’s classy and because that part chilled me to the bone.
Slowly I learnt the ways of humans: how to ruin, how to hate, how to debase, how to humiliate. And at the feet of my master I learnt the highest of human skills, the skill no other creature owns: I finally learnt how to lie.