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Celebrate Mary Shelley’s Birthday: Watch Frankenstein!

Posted on August 30, 2009 at 12:00 pm

Mary Shelley, daughter of two leading intellectuals and wife of a brilliant poet, was a teenager when she was challenged to write a ghost story and came up with one of the most enduring and often-filmed scary stories of all time, now considered the first true science fiction novel as well. She called it Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus. And, as we all now know, it is the story of a scientist who tries to triumph over death by creating life. On screen, Frankenstein and his creation have co-starred with everyone from Abbott and Costello to Alvin the Chipmunk. The monster has been played by Boris Karloff, Robert DeNiro, Randy Quaid, David Warner, Tom Noonan, Peter Boyle, Michael Sarrazin, Lon Chaney, Jr., David Prowse (the actor who played Darth Vader) and John Cleese and inspired the character of Herman Munster, played by Fred Gwynne.

We Belong Dead: Frankenstein On Film is a good resource for the movie versions of Mary Shelley’s story. Some of the best Frankensteins include:

Frankenstein (1931) The James Whale-directed classic starring Boris Karloff is an unquestioned masterpiece of mood and filled with iconic moments.

The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) Whale and Karloff returned with this sequel, which many consider even scarier. Elsa Lanchester plays both Mary Shelley and the title character. Whale’s skill at making the story not just horror but tragedy makes this a compelling film that transcends genre.

Gods and Monsters (1998) This is not the story of Frankenstein but the story of James Whale (brilliantly played by Ian McKellan), whose depiction of Shelley’s story would be as influential in the 20th century as her book was in the 19th. The re-creations of the scenes from Whale’s films are meticulous and illuminating.

Young Frankenstein (1974) This loving spoof of Shelley and Whales has a hilarious script by Mel Brooks (who directed) and Gene Wilder (who starred as Dr. Fronk-en-STEEN). As influenced by Whales as by Shelley, this wildly funny film used some of Whale’s original sets and props.

Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) Brook and Wilder were not the first to see the comic possibilities in a monster film. Abbott and Costello run into a whole bunch of movie monsters with a lot of silly, Scooby-Doo-style scares.

And be sure to check out the Frankensteinia blog, which is a tribute to all things Frankenstein.

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For Your Netflix Queue Lists

Godzilla

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

The classic Japanese monster film has been updated by the team that produced and directed “Stargate” and “Independence Day,” and what we get is basically “Jurassic Park” with one very, very big dinosaur. Nuclear testing has resulted in the mutation of a fish-loving lizard who seeks out Manhattan as an ideal place for him to lay eggs (he is a self- reproducing hemaphrodite). Godzilla roars around knocking down buildings, bespectacled scientist Nick Tatapolous (Matthew Broderick) works with the US Army and a mysterious group of Frenchmen to try to stop him, and Audrey (Maria Petillo), the girl who broke Nick’s heart in college, tries to break into the broadcast reporting big leagues by getting the inside story.

On the scariness scale, this one fits in at around the “Jurassic Park” level, with a few jump-out-at-you surprises and some tense moments. The special effects are state-of-the art, but not particularly innovative. There are some striking visuals and a few clever plot turns. But the movie sorely misses the quirky charm of “Independence Day’s” Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum and the story never captures the heart. As far as I am concerned, the real special effect in this movie is the way they managed to make it appear that Manhattan was evacuated almost instantaneously.

Parents should know that younger kids aware of India’s recent nuclear testing may be concerned that real mutations could be occuring. Some kids may be confused because at times, Godzilla is presented sympathetically, especially as he/she shows protective fury in finding her babies have been killed. Parents of older kids may want to talk with them about why it was important to Phillippe (Jean Reno) to take responsibility for Godzilla and why it was wrong for Audrey to betray Nick’s trust.

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