I, Frankenstein – review

I Frankenstein poster closeup

Like watching someone else play a bad videogame.

Have you heard about this new videogame called I, FRANKENSTEIN? If not, don’t blame yourself; the commercials and posters probably left you thinking that I, FRANKENSTEIN is a feature film. They even hired a few movie actors to make it seem more like a – well, like a movie, and adding to the confusion the demo version is currently playing in theatres, so you can check it out and decide whether it’s a game you’d like to play. Unfortunately, the answer is: No.
Now I know what you’re saying: How could a videogame with Frankenstein’s Monster caught up in a war between angels and demons not be super-exciting? I mean, at the very least, there must be some cool graphics and battle scenes, and stuff like that, right? Well, yeah, the computer graphics are great – almost like a movie – but the game itself is surprisingly dull, for reasons I’ll get into shortly.
First, here’s what you need to know about the game’s story: You play Frankenstein’s Monster, an immortal artificial man with superpowers. You get caught up in a war between Good and Evil over the fate of mankind. You don’t really care much about mankind, because mankind hates you because you’re ugly, but eventually this hot, blonde doctor chick puts a bandage on one of your wounds and so you fall in love and decide humanity’s okay after all and take up sides against Evil.
I should pause here and mention that Aaron Eckhart (who was really good in THE DARK KNIGHT) reads the lines for the Frankenstein Monster. His presence is supposed to make this feel more like a real movie than a videogame, but you can sort of tell he knows he’s just filling time in between the action game-play which is the real reason someone might buy a game like I, FRANKENSTEIN. I suppose if they made a real movie out of this game, with him in the role, he’d probably do a much better job.
Anyway, acting aside, I had a really problem with Frankenstein’s Monster as an avatar, because when you play a videogame, you want your in-game character to be the most kick-ass warrior around like Lara Croft in TOMB RAIDER, or Alice in RESIDENT EVIL, or even John Grimm in DOOM, but Frankenstein just didn’t seem all that powerful in this battle between Good and Evil. I mean, yeah, he’s superhuman – which is good in a videogame – but does being artificially created really make you strong enough to battle angels and demons?
I was thinking maybe the idea would be that the opposing forces were so evenly matched that the monster would be able to tip the balance one way or the other, but instead it turns out to be that Team Evil just needs to study the Monster to learn something that will help them; meanwhile, Team Good doesn’t want the Monster to fall into the hands of Team Evil.
So your game avatar is really a pawn in what should be his own game instead of being the hero driving the acting. And it even turns out that Team Evil doesn’t even really need the Monster; all they need is the journal telling how the Monster was created, so the Frankenstein Monster avatar is that much less important to the game’s outcome.
At least, being superhuman, the Monster can fight, but though the action is nicely rendered, the fight scenes just don’t look that challenging to a potential player. Basically, any weapon with the game’s peculiar religious symbol carved on it will kill a demon, so all you have to do is pick up any weapon and hit a demon with it. That’s all there is to it. Not much strategy or skill involved. In fact, you wonder why Frankenstein’s monster need to be superhuman to do that. Anybody could hit a demon with a stick with a symbol on it. Or if the demons were too fast for that, why not carve the symbol on some machine gun bullets and just fire away?
So, uninteresting avatar and unchallenging fight scenes – at least the game might survive on the strength of its visuals, right? Because the fights are so easy to win, you should be able to quickly breeze through lots of cool settings with great-looking backgrounds and soak up all that wonderful atmosphere, shouldn’t you? Sadly, no.
Probably the biggest problem with I, FRANKENSTEIN is the way the “story” keeps interrupting the action and slowing down your progress from scene to scene. Once upon a time, you just killed something and then moved to the next level, where you could at least enjoy the graphics even if the game was not too exciting; now, however, videogames pretend there’s a story that ties all the death battles together, even though it’s pretty obvious that the story doesn’t really matter.
I’m not saying there’s shouldn’t be a story, but it needs to fit a little more smoothly into the game. Here, it just bogs the game down, constantly – in fact right from the beginning, when we get this prologue which acts like one big exposition dump telling us how “Adam” (as he is eventually named) was created by Victor Frankenstein – as if we didn’t already know that. In fact, I’m betting a big part of the reason they named the film I, FRANKENSTEIN is because they know we all know who Frankenstein is.
And that’s not all: the prologue also tells us way more than we need to know about the war between angels and demons. I mean, we get it: angels=good; demons=bad. About the only thing “new” here is that the angels call themselves gargoyles because they camouflage themselves as gargoyles, but I could have figured that part out for myself.
Unfortunately, figuring things out for yourself is not something I, FRANKENSTEIN ever lets you do. As boring as the prologue is, I took it in stride, because that’s the way these games start now, with the little introductory clip before the real game begins; sure, the absence of a “Skip” button was frustrating, but I figured a few minutes of tedium is par for the course before you get to the good stuff. Boy, was I wrong! Once you get into the actual game-play, the game keeps stopping to explain everything – and I mean everything. There’s never a moment when you wonder what to do next, because the character dialogue spells out what, where, and why before you start each new level.
This would be bad enough if I, FRANKENSTIEN were a non-linear game with multiple paths you could follow; however, the progression is strictly linear, with no two ways about it, so there’s really no need for explanations to justify “decisions” that are predetermined for you by the game. It’s as if they game designers realized their actual story was too flimsy to hold your attention from one level to the next, and so they tried to cover it up by giving you step-by-step explanations why you had to go on to the next scene and defeat the next demon or whatever.

Naberius (Bill Nighy) wants his scientific team to unravel Frankenstein's secrets.
Naberius (Bill Nighy) wants his scientific team to unravel Frankenstein's secrets.

Again, I’m not saying we shouldn’t know why things happen, but part of the fun of a good game is strategy – weighing options and deciding what the next move should be. Here, it’s all laid out for you, and it left me wondering whether the designers even know who their target customers were. The fight scenes and computer graphics make I, FRANKENSTEIN look a cool game for teenage boys, but the constant hints and suggestions about what to do next make I, FRANKENSTEIN feel more like a lame Interactive Hidden Object Game for ten-year-olds. You know the kind: you can’t “lose,” because the game always tells you what to do next. (“Congratulations! You have found Frankenstein’s journal! You can use it to revive your fallen demon hordes and route the angelic gargoyle army!”)
What this means is that I, FRANKENSTEIN is predictable from beginning to end. Not just the usual predictability, where you know you’re going to win if you pay attention and play well – but scene-by-scene predictability, where you know what to do to complete each level even before you start playing that level. Watching the I, FRANKENSTEIN demo in theatres the other day, I ended up feeling like I was watching someone else play a videogame – someone not very talented. At first I wanted to take the controls for myself and show him how it was done, but after seeing how easy it all was, I just lost interest.
Sure, there would be a little more suspense with my fingers pushing the buttons to make Adam swing his club and whack his demon adversaries, but that’s not enough to make a satisfying game experience. I want some challenges, some puzzles, and adversaries whose weaknesses need to be discovered and exploited. To be fair, there is just a tiny bit of that in the end, when Adam comes up against the “boss” demon (named Naberius and played by Bill Nighy – another actor whose presence makes I, FRANKENSTEIN seem almost like a real movie). For some reason never explained (which is weird when you consider who much trivial stuff is explained) Naberius cannot be killed by weapons with the weird religious symbol carved on them.
If you plan on playing I, FRANKENSTEIN yourself, I recommend you watch the demo version on you X-Box at home and stop at this point before it gives away the solution for killing Naberius, which is just about the only halfway decent surprise in the whole game. As for me, as I said, I saw the demo in a theatre, and it totally gave away the solution for killing Naberius, which instantly killed any interest I had in ever adding this game to my collection.
The I, FRANKENSTEIN demo was show in 3D at my theatre, which did add a little bit to the game. I liked seeing wide-angle shots of the ancient cathedral (where the gargoyle order resides), which was surrounded by modern buildings, while demons swarmed the cobblestone streets for the final battle. But the 3D technology has its problems, especially when the game pretends to be a movie. If they had just done the whole thing with computer-generated imagery, it probably would have looked okay, but when they mix the real actors with the computer stuff, it doesn’t always line up properly – and in 3D, the alignment problems are more obvious. Like, there’s a scene where this character shifts from human form to his true demonic appearance, and his head is too big, kind of like a balloon – or more like that joke they do on THE TONIGHT SHOW, where they paste Jay Leno’s face on the body of some guy streaking through a football scene. Except the scene in I, FRANKENSTEIN is much funnier.
The last thing I will mention is that the actress who played Hannah McKay on the last couple seasons of DEXTER shows up as the doctor who sorta falls in love with “Adam.” Which is kind of funny, because on the TV show she fell in love with a serial killer who she thought might kill her because he had killed lots of other people, and now she falls in love with a monster who she thinks might kill her because he killed Victor Frankenstein’s bride Elizabeth in that long boring prologue I mentioned above. But of course her blonde hair and good looks provide an invulnerability shield that guarantees she will survive through the closing credits.
Which, come to think of it, are the best thing about I, FRANKENSTEIN: at least there’s no post-credits teaser promising us a follow-up to a game no one wants to play in the first place.
On the CFQ Scale of 0-5 Stars: avoid!
I, FRANKENSTEIN (January 24, 2014). A Lakeshore Entertainment production, distributed by Lionsgate Entertainment. 93 minutes. PG-13. In 3D. Directed by Stuart Beattie. Screenplay by Stuart Beattie, based on a screen story by Beatie and Kevin Grevioux, based on the graphic novel by Grevioux, inspired by the character created by Mary Shelly. Cast: Aaron Eckhart as Adam; Yvonne Strahovski as Terra; Miranda Otto as Leonore; Bill Nighy as Naberius; Jai Courtney as Gideon; Socratis Otto as Zuriel; Aden Young as Victor Fraknenstein.

Legion (2010)

Action-Horror Meets Postmodern Angelic Apocalyptic

Legion (2010)In 1975 evangelist Billy Graham first published his book Angels: God’s Secret Agents. The book would go through numerous printings and inform popular angelology for Protestant Christians for years. In the 21st century angels are still the subject of interest in popular culture, but they are no longer secret, and with the film LEGION, they are not necessarily agents working in tandem with the Divine.
LEGION begins with the coming to earth of Michael the archangel, in rebellion against God because he has lost patience with humanity and has decided to destroy them. Michael decides to fight on the side of humanity, and as a part of that process he removes his collar (perhaps some kind of divine domestication device?), cuts off his wings, and thereby loses his immortality. After arming himself with the latest weaponry, Michael heads to a small diner in the middle of the desert where a waitress is pregnant with a special child. It is here that the battle for humanity will take place as God sends his angelic forces who possess humans and who thereby act as his agents of divine judgment. The end of the film brings a confrontation between Michael and Gabriel, instances of individual sacrifice both human and angelic, and lessons for God himself about mercy and compassion.
Prior to viewing this film the trailers gave the impression that LEGION would be more about action and gun-play than horror. It was a pleasant surprise to see that the film included a little more horror than hinted at prior to its release, but even so, almost all of the horror moments in the film were presented in the trailers leaving little for audiences to experience in theaters and in homes with the DVD release. Two of the more unsettling horror scenes are found in an old woman with razor sharp teeth who rips the throat out of a diner patron before climbing the walls and ceiling and dying from a shotgun blast, as well as an possessed ice cream man that turns into a monstrous creature with elongated limbs (played by veteran sci-fi, fantasy, and horror actor Doug Jones). The ice cream ma creature is scary enough to make any child think twice before flagging down the ice cream truck in the neighborhood this summer. Yet even with these horror elements the filmmakers seemed more interested in emphasizing action in this action-horror drama.
As might be expected in a film that draws upon characters taken from a religious tradition, in this case Judeo-Christianity, there are plenty of religious elements here for reflection beyond the obvious in terms of the angelic figures of Michael and Gabriel. This includes symbolism such as a cross-shaped hole that forms after an explosion in the door of a building from which Michael takes his weapons for battle, as well as one of the victims from the diner who dies while hanging in an inverted cross position, the same way in which Christian tradition says the Apostle Peter was martyred. Other religious elements include the name of the diner, Paradise Falls, and the inclusion of a child who somehow is desired by both of the archangels, one desiring to save the life of the child and the other wanting to kill it. The meaning of the child is never fully developed in this film, which is depicted more as possessing prophetic significance in terms of telling future humanity how to live rather than in messianic terms of deliverance. But this failure to flesh out an important element of the story, and one with religious significance, is a problem throughout this film. Numerous religious elements are included but they presented without much significance, indicating that perhaps they are intended to do little more than tap into the viewers lingering sense of cultural religious memory rather than being part of a new coherent framework for storytelling or a re-envisioning of traditional religious elements for late modernity.
This leads to consideration of the late modern or postmodern context of the film, particularly in the way in which it incorporates apocalypticism. Apocalyptic stories of humanity’s demise are expressed frequently in popular culture as we wrestle with the conditions that threaten our existence, from rogue nations connected to nuclear weapons to environmental challenges to the possibility of global economic collapse. Each culture and the religions within them include stories of beginnings as well as endings, and the West has been influenced by the Judeo-Christian tradition in its consideration of how the end might come and what this might involve.
Legion (2010)With post-modernity comes a new twist: traditional sources of cultural narrative are reworked, and the source of the narrative itself is critiqued. As noted previously, LEGION draws upon the Judeo-Christian tradition, and it provides variations on its elements as well as critique of the religious narrative itself. One major example of this in is the way in which the character of God is portrayed. In traditional Christian theologies God is viewed as perfectly just and unchangeable, needing nothing from his creatures, but existing with all of his attributes in perfection. However, in LEGION Michael has rebelled because God has forgotten or is neglecting important moral aspects such as forgiveness, mercy, and sacrifice. Through Michael’s actions, especially in the giving of his life for humanity in his battle in the diner with Gabriel, he claims to have reminded God of these important moral qualities. Beyond this, Michael’s rebellion is more valued than Gabriel’s blind obedience to Divine wrath. Such a depiction of God’s nature will be unsettling for Christians who have a basic knowledge of traditional theologies, but it does provide a window into a postmodern critique of conceptions of God found in traditional apocalyptic.
In this reviewer’s opinion, LEGION is an average action-horror film that could have been better, but it could also have been far worse given the state of affairs in contemporary horror. Regardless of its quality as a horror film, it provides an interesting contemporary perspective on an apocalyptic narrative courtesy of the angelic-religious figures that have fascinated us for centuries.

Blu-ray & DVD Bonus Material:

  • Creating the Apocalypse
  • Humanity’s Last Line of Defense
  • From Pixels to Picture

Blu-ray Exclusive Bonus Material:

  • Bringing Angels To Earth: Picture-in-Picture
  • movieIQ+sync and BD-Live connect you to real-time information on the cast, music, trivia and more while watching the movie
  • A Digital Copy of the film (for PC, PSP, Mac or iPod)

LEGION (Copyright 2010; theatrical release January 2010; home video release May 11, 2010). Directed by Scott Stewart. Written by Peter Schink and Scott Stewart. Cast: Paul Bettany, Lucas Black, Tyrese Gibson, Adrianne Palicki, Kevin Durand, Jon Tenney, Willa Holland, Kae Walsh, Charles S. Dutton, Dennis Quaid, Doug Jones.

Dogma (1999) – DVD Review

This satirical religious fantasy generated quite a bit of controversy on the festival circuit. Whether or not that was intentional on the part of writer-director Kevin Smith (probably not), it gained attention and helped the film reach a wider audience than the cult of fans who knew Smith from his previous films (CLERKS, MALLRATS). The interesting thing about the controversy is how groundless it is. There is a certain farcical quality to Smith’s handling of the material, but there is nothing blasphemous. Smith reserves his most scathing satire for human institutions; nothing is said to question the glory of the Divine. The true target of the film is not religion but religious dogma, and while he skewers narrow-minded belief, he evinces a complete, almost conservative religious faith of his own.
A pair of angels who have fallen from God’s grace, Loki (Matt Damon) and Bartleby (Ben Affleck), are looking a way back into heaven. They get their chance when Cardinal Glick (George Carlin) offers a plenary indulgence to increase attendance in his church. Traveling to take advantage of this indulgence, which will wipe their souls clean, the angels make some diversions to visit their wrath on human sinners. What they do not realize is that they are playing into the hands of the Devil, who wants them to succeed because undermining God’s plan will unravel the fabric of all creation. A counter-force appears in the form of the Voice of God (Alan Rickman), who enlists the aid of a lapsed Catholic (Linda Fiorentino). Along the way, she is joined by the familiar Jay and Silent Bob characters, plus a thirteenth apostle (Chris Rock), who was written out of the New Testament because he’s black.

Smith’s screenplay assumes that the basic tenants of Catholicism are true and binding, and plays around with the kind of logical contradictions that arise when trying to answer the question of what happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object. Smith borrows mythological elements from other belief systems: Loki is a Trickster character from Norse mythology, known to fans of Wagner’s “Ring” operas. Salma Hayek plays a muse who inspired the Bible and nineteen of the top twenty grossing films of all time (Home Alone only made it courtesy of a deal with the Devil).  Bartleby comes not from mythology but fiction: the short story “Bartleby the Scrivener” by Herman Melville (although Smith’s point, if he has one, is elusive).
Smith combines these elements into a hilarious spoof that buttresses rather than undermines faith. When Loki and Bartleby decimate a corporate behemoth named Mooby (think what would happen if MacDonald’s and Disneyland mated), there is a mixture of suspense and nervous laughter, but the film seems to endorse Loki’s assertion that the company mascot is a false idol, suggesting that the punishment he meets out (for personal as well as corporate sins) is justified.
This is not the work of a true iconoclast. Having bashed capitalism and dogma, Smith offers hallelujahs of faith. Unfortunately, it is easier to tear something down than to build it up, and Smith stumbles when he tries to inspire, offering only vague platitudes: flexible ideas are better than belief, which is entrenched; the fact of faith is more important than its specific nature; etc.
As a piece of film-making, DOGMA is is not a widescreen extravaganza, nor is it particularly innovative. Smith’s strength is as a writer; in the director’s chair, he handles the actors well and captures their performances on camera, but his visual style is more servicabel than visionary (as he himself is prone to admit). He does a competent job with dialogue scenes, but he sometimes comes up short with the big visual moment, such as the the demonic skateboarders, who fail to intimidate as much as they should. At least he has the good judgment to delete scenes that do not work so well (such as the last-reel fight between Silent Bob and the Golgotham, seen as a bonus feature on disc).
G.K. Chesterton (who wrote the entertaining Father Brown mysteries) advanced the idea that satire implies reverence, because there could be no satire unless there was an accepted standard that had not been met; the failure, not the standard, was the true target. Whether one accepts Chesterton’s assertion as universally true, it seems to hold in the case of Dogma.


The original Single Disc DVD ReleaseOn DVD, DOGMA was originally released in a single-disc presentation, with a fullscreen transfer on one side and a letterboxed version on the other. In this case, the letterbox version actually shows less picture information, merely cropping off the top and bottom of the frame. There was a Dolby 5.1 English soundtrack, a French language track, plus English, French, and Spanish subtitles. The minimal bonus features included a trailer and talent files. The release of this version seems to have been a marketing ploy to double up revenues from fans; the two-disc special edition that arrived a year later featured an audio commentary that had clearly been recorded the previous year, in time for the first DVD release.
The Special Edition contains an eight-page booklet, titled “Light of the World,” which includes an essay by Kevin Smith on the making of the film, plus some advertising art spoofs seen in the movie, and a list of chapter stops.
Disc One of the Special Edition announces itself with some flashy interactive menues that begin by fast-forwarding through the Bible. On the main menu (backed by a heavenly synth choir), the film’s Buddy Jesus figure offers you options to “Play Movie” or “Don’t Play Movie.” If you don’t make a selection quickly enough, one of the thumbnail buttons starts up automatically, and “Mrs. Harriet Wise” offers her opinion on how offensive and sick the film is. Harriet shows up elsewhere, asking “Sinner, how can you live with yourself?” when you opt to actually play the movie.
The audio set-up offers English 2-channel Dolby Surround sound and English 5.1 Dolby Digital, plus French and Spanish language tracks. There are options for English, French, and Spanish subtitles. There are two audio commentaries: “Cast and Crew” and “Technical.”
The Cast and Crew Commentaryfeatures Kevin Smith, Ben Afleck, and others in a funny round table, discussing the film and the controversy surrounding it, plus rumors surrounding it. For example, in response to the suggestion made by some critics that the angels Bartleby and Loki intentionally satirize rumors that Afleck and Damon are a couple, Smith insists that the characters were written long before the actors were cast. We also learn that the language Afleck spits out while being tossed off the train by Silent Bob (Smith) is German, which translates as “I’ll get you for this, Silent Bob.” (Why German? Affleck thought the angels’ native language was Germanic and that they would lapse into it in a crisis.) This commentary also includes a “Video Hijinks” option, which allows you to access additional clips whenever the Buddy Christ figure appears on the screen.
The Technical Commentary, as the name suggests, eschews the jokes in favor of providing nitty-gritty details about the making of the film. For example, the Buddy Christ statue was sculpted from an existing statue of an apostle, with the head cut off and replaced.
Disc Two contains numerous bonus features: Deleted Scenes, Storyboards, Outtakes, Trailer, Saints and Sinners (talent bios of cast and crew), etc.
Deleted Scenes include:

  • Jay Finds Solace in Christ
  • Cardinal Glick speaks a lot
  • Bethany’s Boo-Hoo
  • Azrael house sits
  • Bartleby & Loki make fun of Wisconsin
  • Azrael’s moment of doubt, and even more Mooby fast-food fun!
  • The now legendary “Fat Albert” sequence in which Jay and Silent Bob find solace in Christ
  • Loki’s slaughter, Serendipity’s entire sotry, and the Golgothan is called “Stinky.”
  • Azrael’s horns in the toy store
  • Rufus tells Bethany about the wonder of Christ
  • Loki’s take on “Star Wars,” Bartleby and Bethany flirt.
  • The four-hour version of the campfire scene
  • Our heroes spend a few extra minutes with Cardinal Glick
  • The Grand Guignol Azrael sequence that reveal the nature of Hell and gives us a glimpse into the pit…sort of
  • The fate of Cardinal Glick
  • Poop Floats: The return of the Golgothan

Some of the scenes feature explanatory introductions by Smith (who tells us the last one is so bad that it could possibly destroy his career). Most of them are worth seeing, but as you can tell from their sheer number (their running time is approximately 100 minutes), they had to be deleted just to get the running time down to a manageable length.
Storyboardsfeatures three sequences, which seem to have been drawn on yellow-lined paper: Mooby, Triplet Attack, and No Man Attack. Only of interest to people interested in the nuts-and-bolts of film-making.
Outtakes include some at most mildly amusing bits and pieces of actors flubbing their lines and otherwise screwing up (i.e., hitting their heads on the boom microphone).
Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Pot Stashhas the two characters plugging the eponymous online store where you can purchase merchandise from the movie. Basically, a commercial.


Sony Pictures’ Blu-ray Disc (released on March 11, 2008) squeezes the bonus features from the Special Edition DVD onto a single disc with improved sound and video quality. Although DOGMA, like most Kevin Smith films, emphasizes dialogue, it also has plenty of special effects and several big visual moments, including a few flashes of violence, making it a worthwhile film to experience in a high-def version.
DOGMA. (Lion’s Gate, November 1999). Written and directed by Kevin Smith. Produced by Scott Mosier. Music by Howard Shore. Rated R. 128 mins. Starring: Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Linda Fiorentino, Salma Hayek, Jason Lee, Alan Rickman, Chris Rock, with Alanis Morisette and Bud Cort.