This won't be something that you immediately think of when you intend to watch a film that glistens and gleams with high definition pizazz, that's for sure. The bleak and earthy palette that Branagh and cinematographer Roger Pratt decided upon is resolutely gloomy and visually downbeat. But Sony's AVC MPEG-4 encode still manages to lift this transfer over and above any version that you will have seen on home video before. Grain is intact, damage to the print is minimal - in fact I didn't notice anything worth commenting on - and digital manipulation does not make any unwarranted intrusions into an image that, unlike Wolf, is consistent and, unlike Bram Stoker's Dracula, has not had its colour scheme tampered with.
Detail on the scar-tissue and the scientific paraphernalia is greater, though objects further back can't help but lose definition, though this is part and parcel of photography that wants a gauze-like, fairytale mist over it. The Creature, pre-wake-up call as it sits beneath a covering surrounded by pots, jars, wires and tubes creates a weird image, but one that is more readily open to scrutiny than before. Shadows are deeper and better saturated with fine black levels. Whites, however, are dirty and mildewed. The Polar sequences stippled with grain and looking more like well-trampled ice, rather than the stark, clinical reflection of the real thing. This leads to an image that suddenly loses integrity whilst gaining texture.
Colours aren't particularly high on the agenda. But the flash of red from Elizabeth's coat against the drab and rancid streets, the haunting red glimpse of the flower that the Creatures clutches, and the organic vividness of the still-beating heart wrenched from an unwitting chest still provide some nice visual flourishes. The sweaty heat of the creation sequence and the little synapse-flashes of electric sparks igniting the eels come over well, some of these more elemental scenes achieving a thick and burnished appeal that the transfer copes well with. The burning pyre and the sacrificial burning of the cottage bring some brightness and decent contrast to the picture.
The image holds no three-dimensionality at all, but I doubt that it was ever conceived with the idea of sweeping visual depth. Some external shots of the Swiss Alps do possess a deep sense of visual scale, though, but this is the exception rather than the rule. Finite detail in eyes, hair and costumes can sometimes reveal themselves, but this is not a clinical hi-def treatment. It is, however, faithful to the original print, as far as I can tell and most certainly looks the best that I have seen it since its cinematic debut.
Sony's vanilla-disc packs audio with a DTS-HD MA 5.1 track that, whilst hardly revelatory or speaker-rattling, still delivers the film with an agreeable sense of weight and spatiality. Immediately, Patrick Doyle's wonderful score emanates with strength and detail from the front and then wraps its way around you, revealing that the rear speakers will, indeed, come to play a very keen part in what follows. The desire seems to have been to play-up the ambient qualities and the film, which always felt front-heavy but somehow directionless previously, and now feels widened, beefed-up and determined to please. The plus point to all this added vigour is that it all sounds authentic and not composed of bogus effects.
Atmospherics are well rendered, with lightning bolts - though not in the James Whale and Universal style of things - sounding genuinely full of static electricity, wind rushing around the set-up with natural keening resonance, and the crashing of the waves around Walton's storm-tossed ship at the beginning presented with a highly active sense of immersion. The clanging of machinery in Victor's lab and the sudden dropping of bodies at the end of ropes carry weight and impact. The subtleties of the hanging chains rattling in the background and water dripping once the creation scene has calmed down a bit are also nicely reproduced, reminding me, actually, of something similar in Ridley Scott's Alien, when Brett foolishly chases the cat into the shadows.
Dialogue is always clear and it is thankful that the engineers haven't sought to sear the senses with a pitch that perfectly replicates the on-set histrionics that Branagh, Bonham Carter and Hulce deliver - which, I fear, would have been truly disturbing. Instead, the dialogue, barring a few forcibly emphatic screams, oaths and wailing laments feels naturally organic to the lossless mix. The Creature's unearthly moan across the frigid wastes ripples across the front speakers, but doesn't sound anywhere near as artificial as it could have done. Ambience in the crowd scenes is good and bustling with all-round hubbub. The ice-cracking and the jumping sparks of electricity play about the set-up - never too demonstrative, but convincingly evocative. The gunshots and the impacts of bodies hitting masonry, or faces crashing onto tables have nice crisp weight to them. The gutting and bone-breaking attack on the sled-dogs is well done, too, with some sweeping lunges of a mighty arm filtering briskly across the soundstage.
But it is the music that wins the day throughout, Doyle's majestic orchestration engulfing the design with deliberately barnstorming surges and redolent melodies.
Marty Shelley's Frankenstein offers up a better audio track than I expected, although this is still not something that will blow away those used to much wilder, more aggressive and impeccably steered lossless presentations from more recent material. But for respecting the original design and supplying some appreciable extra dynamics, this gains a solid, if slightly charitable, 7 out of 10.
The disc carries a smattering of BD trailers and BD-Live capability. That's all. The SD version had nothing either, but that is really no excuse to leave such a lavish and passionately mounted production as high and dry as this. Criminal, if you ask me.
Cinema's most renowned and celebrated mad scientist cocks it all up in the laboratory once again but, this time, he does so with Wagnerian intensity and a hankering for cultural acceptance. Branagh took a bit of a bashing over this flamboyant and stylised production and, quite frankly, this is unfair. He makes a concerted attempt to translate Shelley's prose accurately and extrapolate her profound and morally astute observations - something that most other adaptors choose to ignore. His version makes up for in sheer drive and visual energy what it lacks in horror and traditional chills, but the end result is destined never to please those who crave a bit more diabolism, or those who like their narrative a little less fruity.
Personally, I think it is a film made up of great moments and of an atmosphere of fine tragedy. And, as such, it is a noble effort and one that certainly buries a great number of previous attempts to wrestle Shelley's darkly elegant tale on to the screen. Good performances battle through less successful ones, but the headlong momentum, as breathless and lusty as it is, ensures that Shelley's desire to “think of a story” that would “awaken thrilling horror” and “quicken the beatings of the heart” comes to the screen with a grand and blitzkrieg approach that I, for one, applaud.
Unforgivably shorn of extra material, but with a transfer that remains faithful to the original print, yet brings in more detail and a soundtrack that delivers more surround activity than I had expected and embraces that wonderful score, I can only recommend the release of Branagh's Gothic adventure on BD.
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