When we think about cinematic interpretations, there are a few different things that come to mind. Oddly enough, the first for many people is probably a spoof. Mel Brooks’s infamous “Young Frankenstein” can rightly be called one of the true classic comedies of the last 50 years. Some may be surprised to learn that despite its zany quality, the film actually scored 93 percent positive reviews at Rotten Tomatoes, and has been referred to by more than one critic as Brooks’s best movie. Thus, to some, the prevailing image of Frankenstein on the big screen is somewhat tongue-in-cheek.
The other main image probably comes from the 1931 “Frankenstein” film, in which Boris Karloff famously played the monster. The role turned Karloff into a name that is recognized even today, and in fact the image of his Frankenstein has kept the movie far more recognizable than your average ‘30s film. Even now, Slotsource includes a Frankenstein-themed slot reel in its gaming collection, and rather than relying on a cartoon depiction of the monster, it’s Karloff that players see. He’s there lording over his own slot reel in all his creepy, dead-eyed, black-and-white glory. It’s exactly the image that first comes to mind when a lot of people hear the word “Frankenstein.”
Yet now we’re looking at a brand new, modern interpretation of the character and his story. The film is meant to be part of a sprawling monster movie universe that Universal is working on. And Variety reported in July that Javier Bardem was in talks for the starring role. Film fans will know Bardem from projects like “No Country For Old Men,” “Skyfall,” and “Eat, Pray, Love,” and while that last example is an exception, he typically plays a maniacal creep of some kind. Without meaning any insult to Bardem, he could look the part as well. The actor has a large head and big features, and we’ve already seen him twisted into a somewhat grotesque figure when he played the lead villain in “Skyfall.”
Bardem and Universal will have a tall task on their hands in crafting this film. That’s not because a Frankenstein narrative should present any particular trouble, but rather because the first movie in this planned monster universe was a little bit of a disaster. It was “The Mummy,” released this past spring, and it flopped rather hard with critics. That has Universal playing from behind where expectations are concerned.
Nevertheless, this is a major opportunity to reshape the Frankenstein character for new generations. Bardem is a great fit, and as noted, most people’s images of this iconic character are decades old (and nearing a century old in the case of Karloff!). It’ll be interesting to see what this interpretation winds up looking like.