Mary Shelley's Frankenstein 4K UHD/ Blu-ray Review

Written by Robert Gold

Blu-ray released by Arrow Video

Directed by Kenneth Branagh
Written by Frank Darabont and Steph Lady
1994, 123 minutes, Rated R
Released on April 12th, 2022

Robert De Niro as The Creature
Kenneth Branagh as Victor Frankenstein
Helena Bonham Carter as Elizabeth
Tom Hulce as Henry Claval
Aidan Quinn as Walton
Ian Holm as Victor’s Father
Richard Briers as Grandfather
John Cleese as Professor Waldman



Victor Frankenstein is obsessed with preventing people from suffering the loss of loved ones. He studies alchemy and the power of electricity in hopes of re-animating the dead. He acquires recently-deceased corpses and sews together various body parts to create a perfect specimen and transplants the brain of a scholar for good measure. His experiments succeed, but Victor is horrified by the monster he has created and shuns him. The creature makes its way in the wild, learning to speak and read before swearing vengeance on its creator. Victor has avoided taking responsibility but is now forced to suffer the consequences of his actions.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818) is a compelling Gothic tale that warns of the dangers of science and man’s arrogance while contemplating the loss of innocence and the nature of good and evil. The story was first adapted to film in 1910 as a silent short produced by Thomas Edison. For many, the person synonymous with the creature is actor Boris Karloff (The Body Snatcher) in Universal’s classic Frankenstein (1931). He is so good in the role that many erroneously believe he is the titular character. Peter Cushing played the mad doctor in Hammer Films’ The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) opposite Christopher Lee as the monster. Cushing would reprise the role in a string of sequels over the next fifteen years, but as entertaining as these films may be, none of them stick too closely to the finer points of the original novel. And just when it appeared the story had been done to death, Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder gave us the comedy classic Young Frankenstein (1974).

In 1992, Francis Ford Coppola directed Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the most closely adapted film version of the classic novel to date. The movie was a box office success and when it came time for a follow-up, Coppola turned to Shelley’s novel with similar intentions of remaining true to the source material. Coppola served as producer on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and brought in Kenneth Branagh (Dead Again) as director and screenwriters Frank Darabont (The Blob) and Steph Lady to craft the script.

The creation in this version is far more intelligent and communicative than in previous films, as it can speak and read and deeply contemplates the meaning of its existence. More attention is paid to Victor Frankenstein’s formative years and the script also includes the framing device of the doctor sharing his tale to a ship’s captain in the frozen waters near the North Pole. There is one major deviation in the third act involving Victor’s love interest, Elizabeth, that is pretty brilliant


Branagh stars as the doomed Victor Frankenstein, filling the role with tremendous energy and passion and the same can be said of his duties behind the camera. This is a lavish production with gorgeous sets and costume design and so much effort is put on screen, it is easy to overlook the picture’s inevitable shortcomings. Branagh’s performance at times plays to the rafters, particularly during the show-stopping creation sequence. Balancing the grandiose aspects is the incredibly nuanced performance from Robert De Niro (Taxi Driver) as The Creature. There were complaints at the time the actor was miscast and too short, but actually he is perfect for the role, bringing much needed gravitas and intensity to the picture with his conflicting desire for love and acceptance and simmering rage at his rejection.

Helena Bonham Carter (Sweeney Todd) as Elizabeth, Victor’s love interest/adopted sister. Tom Hulce (Amadeus) is wonderful as Henry Clavel, the film’s conscience and voice of reason. The great John Cleese (A Fish Called Wanda) is cast against type as the utterly serious Professor Waldman who mentors Victor at school. The always-reliable Ian Holm (Alien) plays Victor’s father and Aidan Quinn (In Dreams) is Walton, the ship’s captain to whom Victor is telling his story.

The Creature has a distinct physical appearance that is strikingly different from the iconic – and heavily copyrighted – Jack Pierce design for Boris Karloff. For this incarnation, special make-up effects artist Daniel Parker (Apt. Pupil) created a patchwork figure with fresh surgical wounds and sutures that would gradually heal as the narrative progresses. Cinematographer Roger Pratt (12 Monkeys, Brazil) contributes to the frenetic energy of the story with his commanding camera moves and his lighting brings the right level of Gothic creep to the screen.

Frankenstein’s monster is one of the most iconic creatures to emerge from the horror genre, appearing in countless books, movies, TV shows, toy shops, Halloween costumes and breakfast cereals. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein plays it straight and returns the character to his roots with this ultra-serious re-telling. Branagh’s film is bombastic and operatic and occasionally exhausting. Darabont’s script provides some interesting twists to the legend that are solid and his take on the creature is a welcome one, even though the screenwriter has publicly distanced himself from the finished product. The film has its flaws of course, but is still the most faithful adaptation to this point and makes for an excellent double feature with Coppola’s Dracula.


Video and Audio:

Arrow improves upon the old Sony Blu-ray (2009) with a stunning new transfer stemming from a 4K scan of the original camera negative, presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Picture quality is sharper and better defined than the earlier release with a warmer color palette and a pleasing level of film grain throughout. The level of detail found in hair and fabrics and other small objects is very impressive and flesh tones appear natural throughout.

The DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround mix will give your speakers a workout, as this is a frequently loud movie. Dialogue levels are clear and understandable and music cues are well-balanced and robust without becoming intrusive. Optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.


Special Features:

In their audio commentary, Michael Brooke and Johnny Mains deliver a thoughtful and insightful appreciation of the Frankenstein legend and the efforts this film went to in preserving the original story – and where the script deviates. We get interesting stories about the production and its cast and crew and the challenges they faced.

Mary Shelley and the Creation of a Monster: David Pirie, Jonathan Rigby and Stephen Volk on the Gothic Origins of Frankenstein (2021, 30 minutes) begins with a simple definition of what is Gothic fiction. Rigby, Pirie and Volk dissect the themes and emotions of the text and take a look at Mary Shelley’s life. They talk about her inspirations and the various versions of the original book, the stage play and Edison’s early film. From there time is spent reflecting on James Whale’s 1931 classic with Boris Karloff and how Hammer Films transformed the doctor into a decadent anti-hero. Kenneth Branagh’s film receives close scrutiny as well.

In Dissecting Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (2021, 16 minutes), Rigby, Volk and Pirie return to discuss the troubles of adapting 1830 in 1994 and note that the creature in this version is an anti-vaxxer with a scientist’s brain. They highlight the many excellent touches within Branagh’s film, which they say is filled with spectacular intent, pointing to material in this version absent from all earlier films.

The coolest supplement on this disc is the inclusion of the original silent short: Frankenstein – A Liberal Adaptation from Mrs. Shelley’s Famous Story for Edison Production (1910, 13minutes), directed by J. Searle Dawley, photographed by James White starring Augustus Phillips as Frankenstein, Mary Fuller as Elizabeth and Charles Ogle as the Monster – restored by the Library of Congress from the single surviving nitrate print.

Stitching Frankenstein (2021, 15 minutes) is an interview with costume designer James Acheson, who recalls working with the director daily on set, shooting on a Swiss glacier, designing the creature’s wardrobe and working with Robert De Niro, John Cleese and Helena Bonham Carter.

The interview segment We’ll Go No More a Roving (2021, 13 minutes) catches up with composer Patrick Doyle, who reflects on coming up with a main theme, playing it on set for Carter, then running variations. He also talks about composing the creation theme.

Making it all Up (2021, 14 minutes) finds creature designer Daniel Parker sharing his experience of working with other departments including costuming, set design and cinematography when creating the look of the monster. He tells an entertaining De Niro story and of working with the various prosthetics. Other topics of discussion include the rigid shooting schedule and the use of doubles for De Niro to limit his time in the make-up chair.

A theatrical trailer and teaser trailer are included

A photo gallery plays as a slideshow (3 minutes).

 mary shelleys frankenstein 10


Movie: Cover
Overall: 4.5 Star Rating

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Robert Gold
Staff Reviewer
Robert's favorite genres include horror (foreign and domestic), Asian cinema and pornography (foreign and domestic). His ability to seek out and enjoy shot on video (SOV) horror movies is unmatched. His love of films with a budget under $100,000 is unapologetic.
Other articles by this writer



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