A Filmmaker’s Guide to the 19th Century Novel (Pt. 3)
Part 3: adaptations of 'Frankenstein' by Mary Shelley.
Welcome back! If you haven’t read the previous section on our focus study of Frankenstein then you probably want to before referring to this particular section. If, however, you feel completely clear about that, then let’s carry on into our focus on three very different adaptations of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. We will be looking at: the 2015 film entitled Victor Frankenstein, which pays close attention to some of the events in the book, and uses the same atmosphere. The next film we will look at is the famed Rocky Horror Picture Show, which takes concepts from the book, and changes the ideas surrounding it, including genre and character. The final adaptation we will concentrate on is characteristic adaptation, which we will find in the MCU character of Iron Man as Victor Frankenstein.
What we’re going to be looking at is how these different adaptations do what they’re setting out to do. Firstly with an adaptation clearly taken from a piece in the book, secondly by an adaptation loosely based on the ideas and concepts in the book, and thirdly a character based on the protagonist of the book. This, hopefully, will clear up how you do not need to be completely faithful to the book in order to maintain originality and authenticity.
The very first thing to look at is how this movie seems to capture the era in which Frankenstein is written and set. The late Romantic Era is the time we’re looking at, and just by observing the clothes, mannerisms, and setting–we can see that they’ve stayed faithful to the book in that sense. However, this adaptation has created a new character called “Igor” in order to make the narrative shift away from Frankenstein himself, and see him observed by others. This is effective as most of the book is written in first person, and that would not allow the audience to see it from a third person perspective, and get other characters’ emotions projected on to Victor. Instead, it would be Victor projecting on to other characters. The film also takes the aspect of "Prometheus" from the book’s subtitle “Modern Prometheus,” and uses it to name the Monster. Even though it may not remain fully faithful to the book, you can definitely see that it is attempting to, though changing things for a different medium has proved necessary. Though it received unfavourable reviews, I think that this film makes a watch worthwhile in order to see how it has been reimagined, but without changing too much of the story’s main, core premise. They have relatively cut out things about Victor’s childhood and family, they cut Elizabeth out, and cut out Henry Clerval as well–but instead, they have given Frankenstein a look from an innocent’s POV, instead of having him narrate his own story. It is interesting, strange, and definitely done better in some other films–but personally, I think this one is pretty interesting to watch.
I know what you’re thinking, don’t worry. It is roughly based on Frankenstein since they bring the character of “Rocky” to life. This is changing the genre, obviously from gothic horror to comedy. Whilst other characters kill out of jealousy and rage, Rocky remains almost cowardly, being tormented by the other characters to a degree through some of the movie. Obviously, this is to show exactly who really is the villain in this case, as it takes the idea that the real humans must be the villainous ones straight from the Shelley novel. The other aspect is that the monster is missing. In the novel, the monster goes missing when it is first made–which is another thing that happens in the film. Instead of nobody else being around though, there are many people around, and more coming to investigate deaths. It reflects the point at which William died in the novel. This use of actual parts of the novel interpreted in a slightly different way means that the writers of the film can extract comedic effect from them. This also means that they can retain the main source material through the main premise of the story. Again, it is told through following two other characters that are made up for the story in order to offer an on-looker/audience perspective.
Most people by now are well aware that the avengers are mostly based off characters in 19th century novels. Hulk is Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Tony Stark is Victor Frankenstein, Black Widow is Irene Adler from Sherlock Holmes, and so on. The character of Iron Man, as Victor Frankenstein really comes through in the second avengers film Age of Ultron. Taking the point at which Frankenstein begins making his monster in secret; at the near-beginning of Age of Ultron Tony Stark completes his “Ultron” program. After which, Ultron eliminates Jarvis, and attacks back–which is also what happens in the book Frankenstein to Victor. Ultron then escapes, just as the Monster escapes in the novel, and begins killing, just as the monster does in Shelley’s Frankenstein. As people turn against Tony Stark (as they do with Victor Frankenstein), he must continue to do things in secret, such as uploading JARVIS on to a synthetic body (thus creating the vision). Victor Frankenstein also does things in secret, such as hunting down the monster, and trying to reel it in. This happens to be the exact same thing, (but via different process), that Tony Stark is doing. This is using the character in another realm by having characteristics, familiar items, themes, and even some personality characteristics of Victor Frankenstein inserted into the Iron Man character. In superhero movies especially, the 19th Century anti-hero, is very popular to this day.
I hope you have enjoyed this fairly short study of the character of Frankenstein in three different contexts and places. We can understand the character better this way, and see how it evolves throughout history almost 200 years after the initial book was written. The changing character of Victor Frankenstein is always placed in an environment where the character will thrive, and adapt to the situation. The cause and effect, the main premise, and the characteristics of the person stay the same as the atmosphere, situation, and time around him changed completely.