Now we know why US distributor Lionsgate chose not to screen I, Frankenstein for the critics in advance of its US debut last Friday, and why the release was postponed from February 2013.
The Melbourne-shot 3D action-thriller, written and directed by Stuart Beattie, has been shunned by US audiences and excoriated by reviewers. The film starring Aaron Eckhart as Frankenstein’s reincarnated corpse who battles gargoyles and demons in 21st Century London, opened with $8.6 million at 2,753 screens, far lower than most pundits’ predictions.
It ranked sixth behind the second weekend of buddy cop comedy Ride Along, the fifth frame of war drama Lone Survivor, animated films The Nut Job (week 2) and Frozen (week 10), and the second weekend of Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.
The reviews were near unanimous, with just two "fresh" and 41 rotten on Rotten Tomatoes, for a pitifully low score of 5%.
Based on a graphic novel by Kevin Grevioux, creator of Underworld, the film features Bill Nighy, Yvonne Strahovski, Miranda Otto, Jai Courtney, Socratis Otto, Caitlin Stasey and Aden Young as Victor Frankenstein.
None would relish reading withering reviews typified by Variety’s Andrew Barker, who opined, “Utterly witless, listless, sparkless and senseless, this supernatural actioner makes one long for the comparative sophistication of the conceptually identical Underworld franchise (with which it shares producers and a writer). It should struggle to show many signs of life at the box office.
“Director Beattie keeps his camera in constant motion throughout, though it’s sometimes unclear what effect he’s trying to produce. The relentlessly obtrusive score is matched in volume by the sound editing, which renders the rustling of clothes and the turning of pages in a book with floor-quaking resonance. The sets and other production design elements, however, are quite nice to look at when the camera holds still for long enough.”
The Hollywood Reporter’s Robert Adele hissed, “Conspiracy theorists might posit that January is when the movie industry deliberately sours audiences so that summer's merest uptick in popcorn entertainment value feels like a drought vanquished. Exhibit A in this argument could be the grey, dumb, bolt in the neck called I, Frankenstein."
The Wrap’s Alonso Duralde dissed, “This dreary horror-superhero hybrid about a war between angels and demons is as soulless as the title character. There are moments in I, Frankenstein where the movie feels like it might launch into the silly and entertaining drive-in movie it could have been; instead, it’s incoherent, ugly and lacking in any kind of flash or dazzle. The ending threatens a sequel, but unless they can get Mel Brooks out of retirement to make I, Young Frankenstein, there’s really no need.”
Even websites which usually respond to geek fare were unimpressed. Twitch Film’s Peter Martin declared, “Beattie can certainly tell a story. But is this a story worth telling? His screenplay is laser-focused on setting up the universe, laying out the good guys and the bad guys, and constructing a framework for the visual spectacle. He succeeds in all those areas, without exceeding in any one of them.
“The arresting and gorgeous visuals, presented with all the depth and conspicuous layers we've come to expect from modern 3D, only serve to emphasize a shortcoming of the film, which is that no one really cares about the stakes involved.”
Screen Crush’s Todd Gilchrist ventured, “It’s a lot better-executed than one might imagine, but given its numbing proficiency and near-total lack of imagination, that makes the whole thing even worse. Because for better or for worse, a disaster might have signified real ambition, even if it failed – and if it’s not even extreme enough to be memorable, what’s the point? A better title might have been ‘Why, Frankenstein?’”
Maybe that question should be directed to Beattie and the producers, US-based Lakeshore Entertainment and Australia's Hopscotch Features.
It will take a minor miracle if the film works in Oz, where it’s due to open on March 20 via eOne Hopscotch