After reading the book Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and then seeing several adaptations done for the silver screen, there are changes that the films make to the book. The most evident change that jumps out at me is the portrayal of Dr. Victor Frankenstein. The common missing element in all of the film versions of the classic novel is the way they treat the character of Victor. The films all tend to downplay what a “monster” Victor is and instead stress how much of a monster the Creature is. The films seem to stress less on the responsibility and guilt that Victor feels over his creation, which is shown in the book. Instead of taking the stance on “a crime against nature” for trying to play God, the films spin the film as “a science experiment gone wrong”.
When reading the book Frankenstein, and looking at the character of Victor, one can not help but see his character flaws. Dr. Frankenstein is portrayed as selfish, ego manic bent on restoring life to his stitched together creature, and doesn’t stop to think of the consequences. Though not till later in the book, as Victor and Elizabeth are to be wed, his true selfish nature emerges once again. Victor believes that the Creature is coming to seek revenge on him, not for a moment thinking about the well being of his bride to be, Elizabeth (144). In the novel it is all about Victor and his selfishness, where as in the film versions, it looks as though Victor is trying to protect Elizabeth. Whether it had been a noise outside or a quick motion of a shadow, in the films its looks as if Victor is trying to protect Elizabeth.
A place in the book where it couldn’t be more evident of his guilt and shame of his creature is after it rises up, the birth of the Creature (35). Instead of feeding off this power scene and theme from the book, the directors of the films missed this opportunity. In the 1994 film Frankenstein, directed by Kenneth Branagh, Branagh changes this scene in the movie by having Victor believe he has accidentally killed the creature, and that all his guilt is believed to be gone. By changing this scene, Kenneth Branagh failed to capture the sense of out casting and lack of feelings Victor shows toward the Creature as he did in the book.
The biggest change in the novel to film adaptations is undisputedly the Creature. Obviously for time constraints, the time in the movie had to be speed up. In the, novel it takes the Creature a long time to learn how to speak and read. On a more in depth scale, the Creature in the films was portrayed a “killing machine”, killing random people that were not connected with Victor’s life. James Whales does this in the famous scene of the little girl being thrown into the river in the 1931 film. Whales takes away the intelligence that the Creature posses in the novel, in my opinion, which makes him scarier than just this “mindless killer”. The Creature systematically targets people close to Victor Frankenstein in the novel where as in the movie he kills people who are not connected to Dr. Frankenstein. The complex and depth character was stripped from the movies and replaced with a popcorn movie monster. The theme of loneliness and abandonment toward the Creature that was in the novel was pushed aside. Instead the films choose to take sympathy on Victor for being “terrorized” by the Creature.
The Creature as no one to connect with, no constant human interaction in his life, which is the opposite of what Victor, has later in the novel. Just as when Victor was alone and working on the Creature, he could do nothing but focus on that one thing. He didn’t want to talk to anyone; all he wanted to do was concentrate on his work. Very similarly the Creature lived alone and had but one thing on his mind, to get revenge with his father, Dr. Frankenstein. In this way the two share a connection; however Victor could walk outside and be accepted by society, where the Creature had to live in the shadows because he was different. The films, overall, didn’t show the true depth of horror that Mary Shelley originally showed in her novel. I think that the director’s didn’t capture the depth and true themes of the novel.
There is nothing against the attainment of knowledge, its when that knowledge is abused and used for the wrong things. That is a very pertinent theme even in today’s society. Films of today have explored that same theme, such as Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park; this theme of playing God through knowledge and technology. In Frankenstein, I don’t think that Mary Shelley is against the attainment of knowledge, but rather the abuse of it. Shelley seems to have not tipped the scale in one direction, but given both sides equal representation. On one end, Elizabeth and Henry embody the attainment of knowledge and on the other hand Victor and Walton embody the abuse of knowledge. Elizabeth is given more knowledge than most women of this time period and does not abuse it. Henry even goes to the same university with Victor, but he as well does not abuse the knowledge that he knows. On the opposite end of the spectrum are Victor and Walton. Victor has taken the knowledge he has learned and used it to play God, he does not think of the moral repercussions or the feelings of the Creature. Walton is a wreck lose and has no care for his crew, only of finding the North Pole, however this changes when he talks with Victor, and decides to turn around. The Creature however, is somewhere in the middle. He studies the interactions of people, such as the family in the woods and attains knowledge by reading and watching his surroundings. The Creature wants nothing more than to be accepted by society. He has no “father figure” to show him the rights and wrongs of life. He kills people close to Victor and in that way he does not use his knowledge for good. However he does try to use the knowledge he gains for good, by trying to help out the family in the woods, but because society rejects him he lashes out against them and his creator, Victor.
Most of the film versions of Frankenstein have chosen to not take the theme of “attainment/abuse of knowledge” as a major theme. They have mainly tended to focus on the aspect of a “monster movie” theme; this less intelligent monster terrorizing the country-side and on the hunt after its creator. However the most recent movie of Frankenstein, done by Hallmark Pictures, is the closest representation of the original Mary Shelley novel. This movie tends to add elements that are not in previous films, such as showing glimpses of Elizabeth’s and Henry’s positive use of their knowledge. The monstrous nature of the Creature is amplified in my opinion by actually showing his higher intelligence in the Hallmark version of the film. He comes off as more sinister because of his high intelligence level. Though the Hallmark version of Frankenstein is one of the better to date, none of the film versions of Frankenstein have used knowledge, the abuse and attainment of it, as a major theme.