While many films stand the test of time, others fade into obscurity. Whether this happens over a period of years or almost instantly upon a film’s release, each of these titles has slipped through the cracks of our collective memory to join the ranks of the Films That Time Forgot.
Adapting a story as iconic as Frankenstein seems as though it should be a pretty simple task: the story is so well-loved and influential that it should come easy enough to filmmakers. However, therein lies the deceptively challenging part of such an adaptation: it’s a story so well-known that simple adaptations have essentially become old hat, but its cultural significance makes changes to the story ill-advised. Films such as Van Helsing and I, Frankenstein have attempted to put a new and fantastical spin on the original story, but it very rarely works as intended.
Victor Frankenstein falls somewhere between an adaptation and a reimagining. Told from the perspective of Igor (Daniel Radcliffe), a former hunchback cured by the eponymous scientist (James McAvoy), Victor Frankenstein‘s story concerns their experiments to bring the dead to life in the middle of superstitious Victorian England. It may not exactly be a faithful adaptation of Mary Shelley’s novel, but it certainly tries to stay true to the broader beats of the story while keeping things exciting enough for modern audiences.
Unfortunately, Victor Frankenstein wasn’t a hit with critics or audiences alike, and its dismal box office takings saw it go down in history as a disastrous flop. This reputation goes a long way toward explaining how a film starring two of Britain’s most recognizable young actors could be so quickly forgotten – it didn’t impress enough people to stick around in our collective memory. However, poor box office performance and a negative reception from critics don’t necessarily mean that a film is inherently bad, and this is exactly the case with Victor Frankenstein.
Victor Frankenstein’s Worst Crime Is Not Being As Inventive As Its Titular Scientist
Taking the familiar tale and reframing it from Igor’s perspective is essentially Victor Frankenstein‘s big hook. Ultimately, that seems to be the issue: it relies on the idea that Igor makes a more interesting protagonist too heavily, and the character isn’t really up to the challenge. By having Dr. Frankenstein cure the hunchback after rescuing him from his life of indentured servitude to the circus, Victor Frankenstein not-so-subtly plays off the monster-into-man/man-into-monster ideas that lie at its very heart. Making Igor such a key part of this particular thematic notion works in principle but not in practice, as the assistant is written to be too sympathetic and important to ever truly feel relevant in such a way.
Attempting to retell the story of Frankenstein using more modern sensibilities isn’t a task that Victor Frankenstein handles well, particularly as it keeps itself so rooted in its Victorian foundations. However, both McAvoy and Radcliffe suit their roles excellently, and with two supremely talented and vastly underrated actors in leading roles, the film does at least prove consistently interesting, even when it’s not particularly entertaining. There’s a lot of dry examination of the pseudo-science that brings the monster to life, and while that was once the most compelling and groundbreaking part of the story, it’s now so commonplace that it seems tedious.
Unfortunately, Victor Frankenstein ultimately failed by not mixing things up enough. Both McAvoy and Radcliffe make a valiant attempt at communicating the importance of the science that makes up this classic science fiction story, but with the ending so well-known, it simply doesn’t land as it should. Despite the journey itself being appropriately dark and gothic, there’s just not enough Hollywood thrills or artistic license to properly make Victor Frankenstein work.
The ironic part is that Victor Frankenstein‘s failure comes from its very nature. Trying to somewhat faithfully adapt such an old and well-known story for modern sensibilities simply doesn’t work, because half of its audience wasn’t interested and the other half already knew all the ins and outs of the narrative. Victor Frankenstein tries to be both modern and archaic, and comes off a little like a patchwork monster given artificial life.
The saddest part is that it’s really not a bad film. Though it’s not the most exciting, Victor Frankenstein features two particularly compelling actors bringing their unique talents to proceedings. McAvoy’s frenetic and occasionally frightening energy is perfect for the titular scientist, while Radcliffe’s quiet charm works well for the intelligent former hunchback trying to integrate into the society that shunned him. Much like the pair’s experiments, though, Victor Frankenstein‘s moving parts all seem to work, it’s just that no one really wanted the end result.
Summary: Victor Frankenstein takes Mary Shelley’s classic and tries to faithfully adapt it for a modern audience, leading to a slightly confused but generally consistent film that was overlooked for its lack of originality.
Highlight: The subtle depth of James McAvoy’s performance makes the eponymous scientist a particularly exciting figure – it’s unclear if he’s the hero or the villain, which sort of feels like the whole point of the movie.