In the past, I have favored my little space on Man, I Love Films with my righteous ire towards remakes, reboots, contemporary action flicks, elitist film snobbery, non-elitist film snobbery, the Criterion Collection, movie conspiracies, problems in adaptation and, of course, my inveterate fascination with Shia LaBeouf. So you may consider this a general sequel to my blind fury about things that I shouldn’t really be angry about. Today: an overabundance of adaptations. A plethora of Pride and Prejudices, if you will.
I have been informed by a reliable source – The Internet – that there are some new adaptations in the offing. Three, to be exact. And they are: Twentieth Century Fox’s Frankenstein, Ghost Pictures’ Frankenstein and RT Features’ Frankenstein. Never mind that I’ve never heard of the last two production companies. The point is: three – THREE – versions of Frankenstein. You know, that story that everyone knows. That 1931 monster film that everyone has seen. That long-winded gothic novel everyone read in high school. THAT Frankenstein. Allow me to repeat: three adaptations. Of the same novel.
I’m not a huge fan of the book – that philosophical treatise in the centre stops the action dead – but it is a hugely influential novel and, once you get past the Monster moaning about how he’s like Lucifer in Paradise Lost, it’s got some good scares and good points. But would you like to know how many various adaptations of Frankenstein have been made? The first one was in 1910. Universal Pictures did eight Frankenstein movies. Hammer Studios did seven. There are an additional 32 different versions of the monster with the mostest, not including parodies, satires, cartoons and other series. Some have only the slightest tangential relationship to the original novel; some, like Branagh’s misleadingly named Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, attempt to be proper adaptations of the original text.
Granted that the Monster has a life of its own independent of source material. Still, the basic story remains the same. How many more adaptations of Frankenstein do we need? What more can they possibly do that poor Monster, who just wanted to die? What can anyone possibly do to that story that is new, different, better? WHAT?
There are certain books that filmmakers latch onto. Frankenstein is one; Dracula another. Fair enough, the novels are iconic, the black and white films even more so. They are monsters that have taken on lives of their own. Most of the films are just barely related to the original texts. For whatever reason, when Branagh did his Franky film and Coppola did his number on Drac, they both claimed to be finally doing the novels. And then proceeded to depart from the novels in some truly shocking ways. Like casting Keanu Reeves as an Englishman or Helena Bonham Carter as a person.
But I digress. It is not just iconic monsters that make Hollywood lay down and roll over and here’s where my ire gets really irate. According to Hollywood, the only book that Charlotte Bronte ever wrote was Jane Eyre. Jane Austen’s only claim to fame was Pride and Prejudice. Arthur Conan Doyle wrote four novels and hundred of short stories about Sherlock Holmes, yet that fucking Hound of the Baskervilles won’t stop baying. So we have been subjected to the trials and tribulations of Victorian damsels in distress – the same distress – for … well, Christ, for YEARS. Is it just because these books are canonical, vaunted in the midde-brow mindset? Read in high school classes the nation over? Seriously, I’m all for brooding men on windswept moors, but how many times can you tell the tale of Rochester’s sideburns, regardless of whether they are attached to Michael Fassbender or Timothy Dalton? I shall always feel warm and fuzzy about Colin Firth swimming in that pond, but the Pride and Prejudice story remains the same. Even if you set it in 00s London.
Am I the only one bored to tears by this? I love Victorian literature, and there are so many good books that have not been given their due. To my knowledge, there has never been a really good adaptation of Wilkie Collins’ two iconic mystery novels, The Woman in White and The Moonstone. Anne Radcliffe made a name for herself with gothic freakiness, including women trapped in castles with skeletons, but we hear nothing from her on film. Charlotte Bronte has three other novels besides Jane effing Eyre. And as for monsters? Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla anyone? That’s a lesbian vampire, folks. Yet Dracula continues to rise from the grave and poor Carmilla lies there alone. Shame.
When I was five years old, I used to watch Disney’s Lady and the Tramp over and over and over again. I knew every character, every voice, every plot twist, every scene. I knew how it began, how it ended and what happened at every given second. I begin to suspect that Hollywood believes the movie-going public are like five year olds. We must be spoon-fed our adaptations. Why make a new film when you can provide the world with a comforting remake? Why adapt a different book when you can show us the same story, for the hundredth time? We’ll embrace it and coddle it and feel very superior that we know how it ends before it ever began. How safe. How comforting.
Who knows, maybe they’re right and we are basically children who need to see the same story, slightly different, over and over again. But I’m not so sure. I’d like to see someone that is not the BBC take a risk and try something different. Try making Carmilla or The Moonstone or Uncle Silas. Try delving into Radcliffe. It may not have the cache of the word “Dracula”, but it might very well surprise the public. I do know that we are not in need of one more, let alone three more, Frankenstein Monsters. Leave the Monster buried. The poor guy’s been through quite enough.