'I, Frankenstein'

When people ask me why I willingly put myself through movies I strongly suspect will be lousy, I give them two answers.

The first is obvious -- that you never really know if something is going to work for you or not until you actually see it. Even if the entirety of a film doesn't work for you, a piece of it -- an action sequence, a clever piece of dialogue, a breakout performance from a relative unknown -- might. The second is less intuitive, but more of a driver. Bad movies tell you as much about the art form as good ones do. Figuring out exactly what didn't work can be as much of a challenge as discerning the many virtues of a great film. The worst movies -- ones like I, Frankenstein -- fail on multiple levels.

Identifying those different levels, I've found, can turn out to be quite difficult. The very conception of a film like I, Frankenstein seems woefully misguided. At its most superficial, it would seem to fit in with the likes of Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters and the rash of other fairy-tale reimaginings that have hit the box office in recent years by hurtling Mary Shelley's famous reanimated monster several centuries in to the future and pitting him at the center of a battle between good gargoyles and evil demons. (Is there any other kind of demon?)

Equating Mary Shelley's Frankenstein to a children's fairy tale would seem to belie a staggering obtusity in the likes of director Stuart Beattie and the other folks who made this film happen. Her work can not be boiled down a simple moral meant for children. Rather, it is about the intersection of science and humanity, the insatiable quest for immortality. Not to be melodramatic, but it's about something more than good vs. evil. It's about life and death.

Missing that proverbial memo is unfortunate, but this odd little subgenre can successfully turn seeming sacred cows in to action stars -- Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is proof of as much. No, I, Frankenstein isn't a failure simply because it is poorly conceived. Nor is it because of the cheesy lines delivered by Frankenstein's monster, the inappropriately chiseled Aaron Eckhart, who uses the Two-Face voice throughout for some reason. (My favorites included, "I thought it was the end, but it was just the beginning," and, "Descend in pain, demon.")

Its biggest flaw is something all terrible movies share: a complete lack of imagination. This undesirable quality can be found in every corner of the film, from its selection of Bill Nighy as the big bad Naberius (really, the same villain as Underworld?) to the dull, shoddy depiction of Frankenstein's allies, the gargoyles, to the straight-from-The Matrix colony of harvested humans, lined up in row after row of pods.

It seems unfair to question the effort of all those involved directly, but simply having to wonder if anyone really cared about making a good film seems enough of an indictment by itself.