Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Monstrous Mayhem: FRANKENSTEIN (2004)

Man, poor Dean Koontz.  Not in a monetary sense, as the dude is worth over $140 million dollars.  I’m talking in terms of having his written work adapted to the screen.  It has been a rough going for Mr. Koontz when it comes to Hollywood.  How bad?  Stephen King would look at the films made from Koontz’s books and go, “Maybe I didn’t have it so bad.”  The bad-to-good ratio is seemingly 10-to-1 (Tom previously covered the WATCHERS disaster here) and in recent years he’s wizened up and exerted more creative control over the adaptations/projects he is involved in.

Even then, there isn’t a 100% guaranteed things will go well.  In January 2004, the USA Network announced that they had partnered with Koontz to create a new series based on the legend of Frankenstein.  Developed with Kevin Anderson, Koontz’s vision of a new Frankenstein series proved to be a sequel to Mary Shelley’s classic under the premise that both Victor Frankenstein and the Monster had lived over 200 hundred plus years to modern times thanks to the doc’s scientific tinkering and the magic of lighting, respectively.  While the Monster – now taking the name Deucalion, after the son of Prometheus – has stayed in quiet isolation educating himself Dr. Frankenstein has been enjoying the advances in technology and creating a group called the New Race, replacing people with clones for an eventual war.  It is kind of like Frankenstein meets Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  When Deucalion finds out his maker is still alive in New Orleans, he heads there to settle the score.

Somewhere along the way, however, the wheels came off.  By the time filming started, Koontz had left the project over the age old creative differences.  Could it have been when director Marcus Nispel decided Victor’s state-of-the-art labs should look like grungy, SEVEN (1995) rip offs?  Or when they cast Parker Posey, Adam Goldberg, and Vincent Perez as characters that are supposed to be tough?  Or solely the fact they cast Michael Madsen – who at this point only played Michael Madsen – as a pivotal character?  Any of those are perfectly acceptable reasons to send Koontz running for the exit doors.  However, he did leave with one stipulation though – he would be allowed to publish his original vision.  So what you end up having are two different mediums sharing the same characters but remarkably different results.

The story in both the first book and the film revolves around New Orleans detectives Carson O’Connor (Parker Posey) and Michael Sloane (Adam Goldberg; the character is named Michael Maddison in the books) hunting a serial killer dubbed The Surgeon by the press because of their interest in stealing only certain body parts from their victims.  As if tracking a killer isn’t hard enough, they are constantly bumping heads with fellow detective Jonathan Harker (Michael Madsen).  Damn, a Dracula reference in Frankenstein!  Simultaneous to their investigation, Deucalion (Vincent Perez) arrives in the city from a land far way (Tibet in the books) after an old carnival friend died and bequeathed him his rundown movie theater.  The monster has also come to the city because he has discovered renowned scientist and philanthropist Victor Helios (Thomas Kretschmann) is actually his maker, Victor Frankenstein.  With O’Connor and Deucalion both investigating, it only becomes a matter of time before they team up to take on the world’s most famous monster maker.

Sorry if that synopsis is a bit brief, but there really isn’t much to this movie as it plays like the Koontz novel on fast forward.  All of the major plots points are there, but missing is the important filler. Obviously, something happened in the ten months from when this project was first announced to when it premiered. The USA Network was obviously big on it at one time, announcing it in January 2004 and declaring it would be a “weekly series” with Koontz being commissioned to write the pilot and four scripts after that.  Things looked up at the end of that month as Martin Scorsese signed on as Executive Producer.  In an odd career move, director Marcus Nispel signed on to helm the TV movie. However, come April/May when the film was going into production, USA Network was referring to it as a miniseries.  By the time it finally debuted on October 10, 2004, it was just a stand alone movie with no mention of follow ups.  (To add insult to injury, Hallmark had announced another FRANENSTEIN miniseries in February 2004 and got it to air five days before the USA Network version.)  Running a scant 88 minutes, this movie almost feels like everyone got a memo halfway through production saying, “We’re shutting it down.”  One need look for no further evidence than the film’s ending where O’Connor and Deucalion agree to take on Victor together and it cuts right to credits.  Yes, they couldn’t even bother to craft a proper dénouement and the film features no confrontation between Dr. Frankenstein and the main characters.  It just ends.

Of course, it is entirely possible the producers just saw the footage and threw their hands up before pulling the plug. Fresh off the success of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (2003) remake, director Nispel stumbles with nearly every decision from the film’s style to the casting.  The film has that drab, sepia-tone look of every other horror film back then.  If there was an answer on that was, “A duo who should never be cast as cops” the question would be, “Who are Parker Posey and Adam Goldberg?” Posey, the indie darling of the ‘90s, is so demonstrably awful in this role that 90% of her performance is her having the same scowl on her face.  Goldberg, sporting a hair cut so bad that it looks like he is wearing a terrible wig, seems to think chewing gum loudly is the height of his character’s personality.  Of course, the worst offense is the Monster.  Described in the books as a 6’6” behemoth with a half a deformed face covered in ritualistic tattoos, the role calls for someone with presence and the ability to act in the subtlest of ways.  Instead they cast 6 foot nothing Swede Vincent Perez and only put a tiny scar appliance on his face.  The only person who comes off well is Kretschmann, who seems to understand the arrogance of the doctor who is playing God.  Unfortunately, his scenes are limited.

And the award for 
“Worst Frankenstein Monster Design of All-Time” 
goes to...

It is a shame too as Koontz’s book series have proven to be a fun continuation of the Shelley legend.  And while you’d think they would be nothing more than a pulpy horror/sci-fi hybrid, there is actually a lot going on in these books with the creations of Victor going haywire in their quest for what is missing (a soul) from their created-in-a-lab existence.  This version completely misses all off that, opting instead for just cheap thrills (and not even delivering in that department).  Amusingly, the book series grew to five volumes and proved popular enough that another company, 1019 Entertainment, optioned them in 2012.  They announced plans to turn them into a…wait for it…TV series.  Like I said earlier, poor Dean Koontz.

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