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Tag Archive: Frankenstein


Review by C.J. Bunce

For a generation of film fans, the words “Hammer Horror” are synonymous with the first color horror movies and studio stars Peter Cushing and David Prowse, who would go on to find real fame in Star Wars, and Christopher Lee, who would be the go-to guy in the 21st century for dark, imposing characters in Peter Jackson’s J.R.R. Tolkien movies, James Bond, the Star Wars prequels, and much more.  Before these blockbusters, these British thespians made movies for a London film company called Hammer Film Productions, and they were instantly recognized as Baron Victor Frankenstein, Frankenstein’s monster, and Count Dracula.  These aren’t the famous monsters of Universal Studios fame, but thanks to Warner Brothers and Columbia Pictures’ distribution, their take on these classic horror characters gained their own international fan following.  In time for Halloween, Telos Publishing has released a new information-filled guide for fans of Hammer’s horror legacy, writer Alistair Hughes’s Infogothic: An Unauthorised Graphic Guide to Hammer Horror.

As for the “graphic” in the title, it’s a bit of a play on words–think infographics, charts, diagrams, illustrations, and maps connecting the often intertwined fantasy world inside the Hammer films.  The titles to the studio’s Dracula and Frankenstein sequels provide an idea of the absurdity film goers were in for, with a list that makes the Planet of the Apes pile of sequels seem pretty short: The Brides of Dracula, Scars of Dracula, Kali–Devil Bride of Dracula, Dracula AD 1972, The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires, Dracula Prince of Darkness, Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, Taste the Blood of Dracula, The Unquenchable Thirst of Dracula, The Curse of Frankenstein, The Revenge of Frankenstein, The Horror of Frankenstein, The Evil of Frankenstein, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, Frankenstein Created Woman, and Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell.  Hammer also made monster movies set much earlier than the 19th century.  The most famous starred Raquel Welch in Ray Harryhausen’s One Million Years BC and Ursula Andress in She.  Steven Spielberg would later provide a nod to Hammer films at the end of Jurassic Park.  The words on the banner falling in the final sequence with the T-Rex was an homage to the Hammer film When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth. 

One diagram in Infogothic recounts the 30 most famous actors to portray Dracula.  In others Hughes pieces together family trees based on information from the films for the Van Helsings and the Frankensteins.  A chart shows the number of adaptations of Frankenstein movies by decade (the 1970s wins with nine, and there has been 51 in all so far as we bask in the character’s 200th year).  Need to locate the story locations for each of the Hammer monster movies?  Hughes provides maps for that, too.  And Frankenstein’s monster and the Count aren’t the only monsters Hammer featured–the book includes interconnections of the several mummy movies and other creature features Hammer produced (The Gorgon, The Reptile, The Curse of the Werewolf, The Phantom of the Opera, Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde, The Plague of the Zombies, The Abominable Snowman).  Hughes also includes details of lesser known and unproduced films throughout his book.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Lists, and by extension, books with lists, are the stuff that sprout conversation.  Sometimes good conversation, sometimes knock-down-drag-outs, but always something to talk about.  We saw that last month in our look at Must-See Sci-Fi: 50 Movies that Are Out of This World, and it applies to Scott Christianson and Colin Salter’s new audacious work, 100 Books that Changed the World This book is not merely a list of books, but an argument supporting why the authors think each book merits recognition.  After all, with more than 2 million new books published each year (300,000 per year in the U.S. alone) and documented writings going back thousands of years, whittling them all down to 100 is a bit daunting at a minimum.  Grade schoolers, college liberal arts and sciences majors, and everyone else has probably encountered a list like this before, usually styled the “greatest,” “most influential,” or “most significant” books ever written.  Ultimately, readers may find the compilation of 100 books that “changed the world” results in a very similar set of books.

What would make your list?  You can probably list 20 included without much work.  The authors state in their preface that there are 50 books everyone would agree should be included.  Think religion and myths (the Torah, the Bible, the Quran), math and science (Euclid’s Elements of Geometry, Copernicus’s On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, Newton’s Philosophae Naturalis Principia Mathematica), philosophy and politics (Plato’s The Republic, Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man), works of fiction (Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings), classic children’s books (Aesop’s Fables, Grimm’s Fairy Tales), works of the often-disputed literary greats (I’m looking at you, James Joyce), and works of long undisputed literary masters like Homer and Shakespeare.  Yes, these are all “givens” for a list like this.  But noteworthy great additions I don’t recall seeing on a list like this before include Louis Braille’s Procedure for Writing Words, Music and Plainsong in Dots, Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat, and Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of TimeAnd no author made the list more than once, except the writers of the Bible, which appears on the list twice: for the Gutenberg Bible and the King James version.

The authors hope their book “makes you question your own choices or ours, or introduces you to a book.”  Criticisms of 100 Books that Changed the World aren’t going to be all that dire as much as simply topics for discussion.  They’re the same critiques of any list or book like this.  Thirty-seven books on the list were written by authors from England, removing the inclusion of any books from some countries.  The list is heavily back loaded, with 26 books from the 19th century and 35 books from the 20th century–explainable in part since the authors didn’t have a lot to select from the first 3,000 years covered.  The oldest book included is the I Ching, roughly 4,800 years old, and the most recent, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate by Naomi Klein, only four years old.  The late history scholar Robert E. Schofield postulated that historians cannot accurately assess the influence of a historical period unless at least 50 years has transpired, and consistent with that theory, nine books shouldn’t have made the cut, removing books like Salmon Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, Art Spiegleman’s graphic novel Maus, and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.  

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It was only back in 2015 that the fourth film in the Jurassic Park franchise, Jurassic World, premiered its first trailer, and a rather bad one at that.  Now as 2018 approaches we have a trailer for the fifth film in the series, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.  And the latest trailer reveals yet another rehash of the original, brilliant, Steven Spielberg adaptation of Michael Crichton’ fantastic novel.  As with Jurassic World, the effort is not entirely futile, Jurassic World was simple entertainment on a big scale–a feast for the eyes.  But for some of us, for all its incredible special effects and fantastic futuristic technology, Jurassic World proved the maxim George Lucas laid out in reference to the success behind the original Star Wars–“Special effects are a tool, a means of telling a story… A special effect without a story is a pretty boring thing.”  And that summed up Jurassic World–the umpmillionth variation on the Frankenstein how-not-to-build-a-monster story, and the latest twist on Crichton’s original look at a theme park gone haywire in his movie Westworld.

Yet if every other blockbuster that takes the leap into Sequel World is able to continue forward with more and more and more and pulls audiences into theaters, why not Jurassic Park?  For those that want to reclaim even a spark of the original in the theater again, maybe it’s enough.  So what does the trailer tell us that Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom has going for it?

First off, Chris Pratt is back.  Audiences like Pratt movies in part because they simply like Pratt’s charm.  He has the same brand of star power as John Wayne, who always appeared to be playing John Wayne in all his movies.  Like Schwarzenegger, Willis, Van Damme, etc.  It must be an action star thing.  So if you’ve watched Pratt (like we have) in everything from Everwood to Guardians of the Galaxy 2, we’re wagering you’re going to like Pratt returning as dinosaur wrangler Owen Grady.  Bryce Dallas Howard is an equally good if not better actor, with less of a fan following, and here she and Pratt are back again being snarky with each other (snore) in a Jurassic World preview.  If they didn’t have chemistry in the first film, why would we expect it to surface in a sequel?  Maybe what we need is the return of Jeff Goldblum in his best-loved role as Dr. Ian Malcolm?  His performance in 1993 was so well-received that Crichton, who killed off Malcolm in the original novel, resurrected the character for the sequel.  Did Goldblum’s return help The Lost World: Jurassic Park?  Not really.  But it’s been twenty years since we last saw Dr. Nature… Finds… a Way, so maybe enough time has passed so we can love him all over again.

And there are dinosaurs.  We’ll never get tired of more dinosaurs.  I want to see a triceratops racing a stegosaurus on the big screen.  How about you?

Check out this new trailer for Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Credit for the success of Blade Runner 2049 as a worthy sequel to 1982’s Blade Runner is a shared prize for director Denis Villeneuve (Arrival, Sicario), the writers, including screenwriter Michael Green (Logan, Alien: Covenant), source material creator Philip K. Dick, and original Blade Runner screenwriter Hampton Fancher (The Mighty Quinn), plus at least two dozen other unnamed creators whose early science fiction works were mined for the story.  Predictable, derivative, slow-paced, and overly long, Blade Runner 2049 still lands as a solid sequel and will no doubt please fans loyal to the 1982 film.  The beauty of the sequel is the earnest, ambitious effort of Villeneuve under the eye of executive producer and original Blade Runner director Ridley Scott to give the story a reserved touch.  The sequel has the now classic dystopian look of the Mad Max or Terminator: Salvation variety, stretching the original Syd Mead futurism and punk noir vibe into a different but logical new direction–think Blade Runner with the lights turned on.

From the first scene Villeneuve & Co. dig in to not just sci-fi tropes but cyborg heavy themes that sci-fi fans know very well from similar explorations in countless books, television series, and films since the early 1980s, when the idea of adapting something like Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? into a big budget film was something less familiar to film audiences.  The filmmakers touch on many classics–Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, Pinocchio, Shakespearean tragedy–to countless episodes of the Star Trek franchise (lead character and Replicant K/Joe played by Ryan Gosling revisits several direct themes the android Data explored in Star Trek: The Next Generation).  More than ten minutes is spent revisiting the latest technology called an “emanator” that Star Trek Voyager fans will be familiar with as the Emergency Medical Hologram’s “holo-emitter,” a device allowing holograms to move around the world.  What in the early 1980s may have wowed audiences is here not so eye-popping because of the legacy Trek tech called the holodeck.  But none of these flashbacks to sci-fi’s past really takes anything away from the elements re-used in Blade Runner 2049 because they are all stitched together into a clean story.  To some it will be a Where’s Waldo? of sci-fi storytelling and to others the simple nostalgia of exploring Isaac Asimov’s themes of the Robot and the Self will be worth a revisit.

Many questions are asked in the lengthy 2 hour-and 43 minute-long film, and some, but not all, will be answered, disappointing a few loyal fans of the original.  Deaths of characters and actors since the original limit the return of certain characters from the original, but where they happen it’s done right.  One scene, however, is a complete misfire–a character walked onto the screen to the gasp of this reviewer’s theater audience, only to find it wasn’t really who was expected based on the build up of the scene.  But the biggest misfire is Villeneuve’s use of sound and score.  Villeneuve turned to Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer for the musical score, unfortunately creating a dreadful use of sound in the film, compared to the original film’s excellent score by Vangelis.  Where the use of Vangelis’s synthesized cautious, futuristic melodies took a backseat to story and dialogue in the original, here Wallfisch and Zimmer lean on dissonant John Cage-esque chords and blare noises like someone sitting on a piano or a kid plugging his guitar into an amp for the first time, over and over, at full volume–the aural equivalent of J.J. Abrams’ lens flares.  The poor sound takes away from a visual work that could have benefitted from a closer look at the use of sound in the original.  I.e. take at least one earplug along, especially in an IMAX or other digital theater.

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An encore presentation of the National Theatre’s presentation of Danny Boyle’s production of Nick Dear’s adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Frankenstein’s monster and Jonny Lee Miller as Dr. Victor Frankenstein, is coming to theaters in time for Halloween.  Fathom Events and National Theatre Live has partnered to create the next Halloween event for your calendar–a new Halloween tradition with one of England’s best known and most popular actors.

Recorded from a live stage production of the National Theatre in 2011, U.S. audiences have one opportunity this year to see the production on the big screen.  Directed by Academy Award-winner Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire), the production features Jonny Lee Miller (CBS’s Elementary, Trainspotting) and Benedict Cumberbatch (BBC’s Sherlock, Star Trek Into Darkness, The Hobbit, Doctor Strange, The Imitation Game).  The adaptation was written by Nick Dear.

frankenstein

The original production featured two performances with Miller and Cumberbatch switching roles.  The production was a sell-out hit at the National Theatre, and the broadcast has since become an international sensation, viewed by over half a million people in cinemas around the world.

Here is a preview of the Danny Boyle’s Frankenstein:

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young-frankenstein-2

Universally acknowledged as one of the best comedy, parody, science fiction, and monster movies of all time, Young Frankenstein is back tonight for one showing in theaters across the country.  Following on this past August’s news of Gene Wilder’s death, this month’s release of the first major behind-the-scenes look at the film (previewed here at borg.com), and being the prime month for monster movies, it’s the perfect time to view Young Frankenstein like audiences did when it premiered back in 1974.

Even as a young kid I laughed out loud at the Mel Brooks classic, whether I knew the meaning of all the jokes or not–it’s one of those films with clever writing that results in good fun for all audiences.  Five years ago this month it made my top 10 list of best films for Halloween viewing.  My own nephews are big fans as well–the humor still holds up more than four decades later.  And, heck, Peter Boyle’s monster is even in our own borg.com Hall of Fame!
If you go, be prepared to witness a dream team of comedy: Actors no longer with us including Wilder, Madeline Kahn, Marty Feldman, and Boyle, and those still with us, including the great Cloris Leachman and Teri Garr, all at the top of their game.  Plus a bonus–one of the best cameos ever–by Gene Hackman.
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So what are you waiting for?

Sphere car

Review by C.J. Bunce

In simplest terms, Jurassic World is simple entertainment on a big scale–a feast for the eyes.  But for all its incredible special effects and fantastic futuristic technology, Jurassic World proves the maxim George Lucas laid out in reference to the success behind the original Star Wars–“Special effects are a tool, a means of telling a story… A special effect without a story is a pretty boring thing.”  And that sums up Jurassic World, as a film and a 3D Blu-ray, Blu-ray, DVD, and digital release–the umpmillionth variation on the Frankenstein how-not-to-build-a-monster story, and the latest twist on Michael Crichton’s original look at a theme park gone bad in his movie Westworld.

Touted in its marketing as the #1 movie of the year, and proven out at the box office, in many way Jurassic World is a remake and certainly an homage to the original Jurassic Park.  More than twenty years after the devastation caused in Jurassic Park, Isla Nublar now features a fully realized, fully functioning dinosaur theme park, Jurassic World, as originally envisioned by Richard Attenborough’s John Hammond.  You’ll experience deja vu several times as these new characters, and one from the original, fail to learn the lessons of history.  Didn’t the production team watch The Lost World (Jurassic Park II) and Jurassic Park III?  The new theme park is built over the old park where so much went wrong and so many died, including leaving the original park all derelict and intact as it was in the last scene of the original movie, including leaving old Jurassic Park jeeps around for a modern, distracted teenager to magically restore to driving condition in a single scene.  Dinosaur battle shots mirror those from the original, including the finale, although despite new technology the dinosaurs don’t seem as “real” here.  Jurassic World seems to repeatedly search for a scene to match that “objects in mirror are closer than they appear” scene in the original.  Michael Giacchino’s score misses the wonder and excitement of John Williams’s original themes.  Although the effort is there, no single scene in Jurassic World captures the startling jumps and wows of Jurassic Park.

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With four script/story writers for Jurassic World, it’s obvious why the story failed to deliver.  Although we note above that George Lucas knows storytelling, he is also now famous for the stilted dialogue of his Star Wars prequels.  The story team in Jurassic World offers up similarly strange words from the mouths of its actors–things no one would possibly say.  And we can’t believe these dinosaur monsters are scary when the cast bounces back from each near-death experience so quickly.  Even the worst of the characters, the youngest boy (who is a walking disaster) seems barely affected by the death going on around him for half the film.

The real conflicts within the script can be found in the strange parallels and inconsistencies.  For one, director Colin Trevorrow has been quoted as saying his inspiration for the film was an image of a little girl texting in front of a T-Rex behind her.  The corporate bad guy theme that underlies the plot is that no one cares about dinosaurs anymore, they are old news, and audiences needs something bigger and better.  You can just see Trevorrow and executive producer Steven Spielberg laughing all the way to the bank over the irony here.  The message, as delivered in the climax, is “bigger isn’t always better” and that often the original, the classic, offers up the best experience.  Yet Jurassic World hammers into us the over-sized fantasies of Godzilla and King Kong instead of the science-fictional world that made a success of Jurassic Park.

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Ex Machina trailer

Jurassic Park was not only Michael Crichton’s most popular novel, it finally allowed him to synthesize all the elements he had worked out over the course of his career into a perfect story.  Crichton could easily have been the writer behind the examination of man vs. machine that is this year’s big screen release Ex Machina, now in Digital HD and Blu-ray.  Writer-director Alex Garland (28 Days Later) could have taken us on another bland adventure about man’s fascination with technology and mortality, but instead he creates a morality play that is eerily simple yet surprisingly profound.  Behind Ex Machina is a modern Victor Frankenstein complete with a reclusive laboratory and spectacular creations.  Oscar Isaac (Sucker Punch, Star Wars: The Force Awakens) is Nathan, the uber-wealthy CEO inventor atop a Google-inspired enterprise, who secretly is using his company’s collective search data to create artificial intelligence–and more.  Is he the classic mad scientist?

In the spirit of Willy Wonka’s golden ticket, Nathan launches a contest for employees with the prize being a weeklong visit to his own Skywalker Ranch.  The winner is the smart and amiable Caleb, played by Domnhall Gleeson (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Star Wars: The Force Awakens).  All is not what it seems.  Someone here is being played and it’s for the audience to figure it all out.  Nathan has really brought Caleb to his lair to test out his new humanoid robot, Ava, played by Alicia Vikander (The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Seventh Son), and give her a battery of ad hoc tests to see if she passes the Turing test–to confirm whether Nathan has really created the ultimate intelligent machine.  Loosely inspired by more than one classic fairy tale, the seemingly simple story and strange circumstances quickly grow dark.  Who is manipulating who?

Isaac and Gleeson

Garland doesn’t need to rely on his fascinating, humanoid, robotic creations–arguably cybernetic or borg, and eminently believable–to carry the picture.  Its backbone is a well-paced story with a satisfying payoff.  Fans of Neill Blomkamp will love Garland’s study of class and society in the post-modern future: relations between employee and boss, scientist and subject, and master and servant.  In a world of secrets and locked doors, who can you trust?

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Castle Frankenstein 2015

As to sheer volume of remakes, via books, film, or other media, Sherlock Holmes and Frankenstein have gone head to head for decades.  Why not another remake of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the original seed of the science fiction genre and the original cyborg?  Our only question is: Why wait for Thanksgiving when it is such an obvious draw for the box office at Halloween?

The latest incarnation, the big screen’s Victor Frankenstein, stars X-Men’s James McAvoy as the Doctor opposite Harry Potter’s Daniel Radcliffe as assistant Igor.  It’s directed by frequent BBC Sherlock director Paul McGuigan.  From the first trailer released this week, this new film has all the requirements of the Gothic horror tale–a slightly mad doctor, his quirky minion, some steampunk techno-machinery, a creepy castle, storms and lightning, and, of course, the Doctor’s latest creation.

It must be better than last year’s I, Frankenstein, right?

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No doubt the most fun likely will be the banter between the popular British leads.  check out this first trailer for Victor Frankenstein:

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i-frankenstein moving poster

Review by C.J. Bunce

I, Frankenstein is a fantasy-horror motion picture released earlier this year, based on a graphic novel by Kevin Grevioux.  Starring Aaron Eckhart (The Dark Knight), Bill Nighy (Underworld, Shawn of the Dead, State of Play), Yvonne Strahovski (Chuck), Miranda Otto (Lord of the Rings), and Jai Courtney (A Good Day to Die Hard, Jack Reacher), all signs pointed to the possibility that the film could be minimally watchable.  But retellings of classic monster stories are tough to get right.  In our ongoing pursuit at borg.com to identify the best of Blu-ray 3D home video we screened I, Frankenstein in Blu-ray 3D.  Despite having some pretty stellar 3D special effects, the film unfortunately can’t overcome its thin effort to retell the Frankenstein story.

With creators of Underworld behind the scenes, it’s no wonder this film has the look of that franchise.  It also shares the same dark vibe as the respectable and fun monster mash-up Van Helsing.  But its clunky twist on Frankenstein’s monster isn’t saved by the serious acting of lead Aaron Eckhart, or the quality bad guy villainy portrayed by Bill Nighy.

Adam Frankenstein

Good monster retellings?  Try Young Frankenstein (1974), Phantom of the Opera (2004), Van Helsing (2004), the American Werewolf series, Wolf (1994), Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992), The Mummy (1999), and the short-lived Dracula (2013) TV series.  These all show how retellings of classic monster stories can be done right.

Nicely done action sequences and fiery explosions?  It’s got ’em.  Beautifully-rendered, in-your-face 3D?  It’s got that, too.  And if you only want to watch special effects with the backdrop of a classic, then this may be something for one of those moments.

But I, Frankenstein is about a legion of gargoyles and their gargoyle queen (Miranda Otto) who are in a battle with demons under the control of a demon prince played by Nighy, posing as a modern-day biotech businessman.  Nighy’s character wants Dr. Frankenstein’s journal, to be able to resurrect soulless bodies for demons in hell to fill.  Otto’s character attempts to recruit Frankenstein (the monster has taken his creator’s name) to her cause, even giving him the rather silly name of Adam (which nobody else ever uses). Hundreds of years after their initial meeting, Frankenstein and the gargoyle queen reunite in the present day (still wearing the same costumes).

Huh? 

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