Let’s talk bad movies for a while, for regardless of what its few defenders maintain, I, Frankenstein is resolutely bad. It was apparently assembled out of scenes cut from the Underworld movies: spliced together much like the monster at its heart and set loose among the unsuspecting movie-going public last January. Lousy CG effects compete with stone-faced actors dutifully regurgitating plot exposition of breathtaking banality. “Cliché” would be a kindness, and I, Frankenstein leaves not a single hackneyed chestnut unturned. It is, in the sum of things, breathtakingly awful. But is it devoid of entertainment value? That’s a much more interesting question. Hit the jump for my I, Frankenstein Blu-ray review.
To be sure, any entertainment you find here arrives strictly by way of MST 3K. I, Frankenstein commits the cardinal sin of treating exceedingly goofy material with the gravitas of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which pretty much makes its own gravy as far as unintentional hilarity goes. It goes to great lengths to set up the back story of Frankenstein’s monster (Aaron Eckhart), then blithely ignores it in favor of a tale only tangentially attached to him. Two hundred years after the good doctor brought him to life in a lab, he continues to wander the Earth: still grumpy as hell and deeply suspicious when anyone comes at him with “you’re our only hope” talk.
“Anyone” in this case, is a race of gargoyles/angels, who protect the Earth from demons intent on bringing about the apocalypse. The good guys are led by Miranda Otto; the bad guys by Bill Nighy. And again, we wonder how actual actors got involved in this thing when all they do is stand around enunciating stifling chunks of backstory. (Nighy, at least, fully embraces the silliness in a deliciously over-the-top performance.) Their centuries-long war comes to a head over Victor Frankenstein’s infamous theories, and what might arise should the bad guys get their hands on them.
It’s nothing we haven’t seen a million times before: an overly complicated storyline serving only to string together noisy CGI action pieces. They possess a satisfying sense of kinetics, but without a more engaging plot to drive them forward, soon devolve into empty sound and light. Eckhart slums it up madly, using the role as a chance to give his Harvey Dent a curtain call and performing quiet miracles solely by getting the lugubrious dialogue out of his mouth. The rest of the cast gamely follows suit, though they’re all swimming against the current, and eventually surrender to their status as props in a live-action cartoon.
And yet for all of that ridiculous D-list filmmaking, I’d be lying if I said at least part of me didn’t enjoy it. The film actually demonstrates a lot of affection for Mary Shelley’s original novel, and respects her version of the monster rather than slipping into lazy pop-culture shorthand. The same holds true for the original material surrounding it. I, Frankenstein rarely knows what it’s doing, but it does it with a great deal of energy and enthusiasm. That’s enough to grant it a certain measure of guilty-pleasure fun for the right sort. I first watched it at an old-fashioned drive-in theater not far from my house, and those creature-feature sensibilities help it salvage a certain amount of… well, not dignity, but at least the respect that comes from pursuing modest goals with great vigor.
For most viewers, that won’t make any difference. This movie stinks, and no amount of sugar coating can hide that fact. But if you’re the sort who loves a good cheesy monster mash — with plenty of opportunities for Maximum Snark built right in — then I, Frankenstein may provide its share of smiles. Bad it may be, but it’s so beautifully bad that quality might not matter. Just make sure you don’t admit it in mixed company.
The Blu-ray set is about par for the course: good audio and visual quality, a smattering of vaguely informative extras, and the ubiquitous digital copy in case you’re bold enough to watch it in public. The high points include a solid audio commentary from director Stuart Beattie, a less interesting commentary from a gaggle of crewmembers, two vaguely interesting behind-the-scenes features and the film’s original trailer.