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I, Frankenstein? I don’t think so

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With Aaron Eckhart in the lead and a 3% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, who exactly wants to see I, Frankenstein?

The poster reads: “After 200 years, he’s still alive.” Replace the words ‘still alive’ with ‘in the public domain’ and I think we come close to properly capturing the spirit of Stuart Beattie’s lazy monsterfest I, Frankenstein. Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I admit I haven’t actually seen the film. But then again, who would want to? Nobody, it would seem: In its opening weekend in the US, I, Frankenstein took just $10 million (against a $65 million budget) and currently has a 3% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Were the Underworld movies lucrative enough that producers thought we needed another undercooked monster mash?

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is in the public domain, meaning anyone anywhere can publish anything they like using the book’s plot and/or characters. Only particular versions like Universal’s original film are under copyright, but the fact remains: just because one could make a movie featuring Frankenstein’s monster is running around fighting demons and gargoyles (I’m getting serious Van Helsing flashbacks over here) doesn’t mean one should. Yet here we are.

Why was I, Frankenstein made? Who is it for? Were the Underworld movies lucrative enough that the producers thought that the marketplace needed another undercooked monster mash, in 3D no less? I wonder if the producers merely saw a quick buck to be had, or completely misread the current blockbuster climate. Either way, they were wrong – DEAD wrong (see what I did there?).

i frankenstein naked eckhart

I, Frankenstein stars Aaron Eckhart as the eponymous monster (yeah, I’m confused too) and, of course, Bill Nighy, who has never met a shitty film he didn’t want to be in. Nighy we can understand, but Eckhart is a great actor whose career decisions when it comes to leading roles have left much to be desired. Eckhart’s trapped in a netherworld between attractive leading man and talented character actor. The actor needs to focus more on the latter, because he certainly does not have the star power to elevate such ho-hum material.

Frankenstein, while a classic character, really does not have the cultural capital at the multiplex right now

If box office success can be measured by the audience’s desire to consume media that is in some way derived from a pre-existing property, then the combined billions of dollars earned by the Marvel, Harry Potter and Twilight franchises makes a lot of sense. But what the producers of I, Frankenstein possibly fail to understand is, in this cinematic landscape, it isn’t enough just cobble together some vague horror and action elements and present it with a CG gloss.

Not only should the property be pre-existing, but there should be brand recognition, and Frankenstein, while a classic character, really does not have the cultural capital at the multiplex right now. Audiences love comic book adaptations, but of characters and conceits they are even vaguely interested in. Where is the audience demand for an action movie re-imagining of Frankenstein? The fact that it was previously a graphic novel is such a tenuous link to the current zeitgeist as to be laughable.

i frankenstein monster thing

However, perhaps Lionsgate has released a cynical cash grab masquerading as a movie. Even this motivation is ill-guided – if it is a cash grab, it feels like a very low-aiming one. Getting in on the market share with as little effort as possible brings to mind The Asylum, the film studio that makes facsimiles of blockbusters, like The Da Vinci Treasure and Alien vs Hunter. This is a comparison Lionsgate should avoid at all costs.

Getting in on the market share with as little effort as possible brings to mind The Asylum, the movie studio that makes facsimiles of blockbusters. It’s a comparison Lionsgate should avoid

The trailer and all the publicity material for the film makes it appear those who gain profit from the film are really not expecting much of a return. They want that Underworld money, but was that really all that much? Probably enough, which looks like the catch cry of the entire production. Where they have gone wrong is that there are no sexy vampires fighting muscular, shirtless werewolves. Instead there’s a slightly scarred looking Aaron Eckhart lumbering his way across a paint-by-numbers CG gothic landscape (in a hoodie!) fighting CG monsters that look more wooden than the acting. Visually, there is really no other touchstone than perhaps the Hellboy movies and they themselves didn’t make all that much money. But still, they are far superior films, made with love and affection by Guillermo del Toro.

Is this a hot mess or a misguided adventure in hubris? Probably a little of both – it certainly looks like a complete rush job with the main priority being a quick release. Stories abound of mismanagement and short shooting schedules (director Stuart Beattie, who wrote the amazing Collateral, was brought in after the first director was fired), so the blame falls squarely at the feet of the studio whichever way you slice it. I honestly can’t wait to see the film; it looks like one of those creepy celebrity likenesses painted by a Death Row inmate, except with slightly less artistic merit.

 

All images: Lionsgate

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