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  • Stefan Riedlinger

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein - Patrick Doyle - Soundtrack Review

I was always a big fan of the “Frankenstein” movies and read the book when I was a teenager. Also, Kenneth Branagh established himself as a great director who was not able to direct entertaining Shakespeare adaptions such as “Much Ado About Nothing”, also with a wonderful score by Patrick Doyle, he directed with “Dead Again” a haunting thriller that immediately caught me when I saw it for the first time. Therefore, I was highly excited to see these two very gifted people working on a Frankenstein-movie. This was a must see for me!

The movie

Most critics these days think that “Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein” is not a great movie. It has good scenes, but overall the movie is over the top in a lot of aspects: too much pathos, too many scenes with Branagh showing his very well-trained body, too much violence in the end, and too much Shakespeare in the dialogue and the directing.

These might all be true, but overall “Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein” is a great movie and it has a lot of scenes that you will remember after seeing it. Robert De Niro gives a very good performance, but the critics are also right that some scenes are not very convincing. Even though the movie was not a success in the US, it still ranks as the most faithful film adaptation of Mary Shelley's novel. Here is the trailer with a music that really does not fit:

I read the book when I was a teenager. The cover warned me that this is not a book for a teenager, and that is true. The novel has a complicated structure, consists mostly of letters written between Arctic Explorer Captain Robert Walton and his sister. Branagh is the only director who starts his movie with this frame story and shows the final scene of the book set up close to the North Pole, a very powerful ending of the movie. Considered that Shelley was just 18 years old when she wrote the book, “Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus” is a fabulous novel. The book is inspired by a lot of elements of the English and German gothic novels and be considered as the first real science fiction story.

I found this clip about the Mary Shelley:

When you read the novel for the first time and have seen most of the Frankenstein movies before, you really cannot understand why not just one director tried to adapt it as close as possible. Hammer’s “Frankenstein” movies with Peter Cushing are real classics, especially the first two, but to be honest, sometimes the plots are crappy and without the acting of Cushing, nobody would watch these movies today.

Kenneth Branagh was the first one who took the novel by its heart. His “Frankenstein” adaption has great scenes, e.g. the creation of the monster or the final showdown (a totally new ending compare to the book), but overall, also Branagh was not able to create a very convincing movie. Even though De Niro gives a very good performance, one of the biggest weaknesses of the movie is the monster. It is just too scary in his appearance. In the novel, the creature is described very vaguely: It is ugly, with translucent yellowish skin pulled so taut over the body that it barely disguised the workings of the arteries and muscles underneath, has watery, glowing eyes, flowing black hair, black lips, and white teeth. Boris Karloff acting as the creature was so successful that people still have his performance in mind when thinking of Frankenstein’s creature.

Although Branagh movie reminds you sometimes of a Shakespeare drama with its high focus on tragedy and melancholic dialogue scenes, his adaptation is still one of the best. Unfortunately, there are some very rough violent scenes that are totally unnecessary. The showdown with Elizabeth is worth seeing and unforgettable.

The music

Patrick Doyle’s music is without any doubt one of the best parts of this move. In my collection, this score was the second CD by Patrick Doyle I bought, and after listening to this score, I finally fall in love with the composing style of this composer.

This soundtrack is Doyle at its best, with all his greatness, but also with its weakness. Doyle is not such a sophisticated composer like Jerry Goldsmith or John Williams, but Doyle is a great film music composer when you give him a story full of action, passion and romantic moments. His ability to go to the heart of a scene, combined with his sense of drama and his ability to write lovely melodies, increases the emotion of a scene to its fullest, and that is exactly the function of a very good film music composer.

For “Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein” Doyle created a majestic main theme, a lovely romantic theme for the quieter moments and very bombastic music, e.g. for the “Creation”-scene, that on the one hand underscores the emotions, but additionally increases the over the top attitude of the movie. The orchestration of this score, done by Doyle’s long-time orchestrator Lawrence Ashmore, focuses heavily on the brass section of the orchestra and gives the movie the dynamic power which it lacks sometimes. Mostly, the score is very dynamic and very loud and perhaps should be listened very loud to develop its musical power. Despite the brutal force in the action tracks of the score, Doyle created a beautiful love theme that you can hear e.g. in “The Wedding Night”. Here is the music:

For me, it was astonishing how Doyle could cover the wide range of emotions of the movie in his score, and as you can see in his score to Kenneth Branagh’s “Cinderella”, he works best with Kenneth Branagh as director.

“Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein” received mixed reviews, made $22 Mio. in the US, and more in the global market. It was a financial success in the end, but not the success people expected. Critic Janet Maslin from “The New York Times” summarized the problems the audience had with this movie, but also shows that she has a total misunderstanding of the novel and the subject of Frankenstein in general: “Branagh is in over his head. He displays neither the technical finesse to handle a big, visually ambitious film nor the insight to develop a stirring new version of this story. Instead, this is a bland, no-fault Frankenstein for the '90s, short on villainy but loaded with the tragically misunderstood. Even the Creature, an aesthetically challenged loner with a father who rejected him, would make a dandy guest on any daytime television talk show." Poor Maslin, she did not understand that this father subject is one of the most important subjects of the novel.

Anyway, enjoy Doyle’s score despite what critics said. I recommend you to listen to the following tracks and watch the movie if you have not seen it.

Track 1 “To Think Of A Story” (beginning)

Track 9 “The Creation” (no comments necessary anymore)

Track 11 “The Escape” (action…)

Track 15 “William” (a great scene in the movie)

Track 16 “Death of Justice”

Track 18 “God Forgive Me” (second creation starts)

Track 19 “Please Wait”

Track 20 “The Honeymoon” (one of the highlights because of its dynamic)

Track 21 “The Wedding Night” (the love theme)

Track 23 “She’s Beautiful” (showdown music)

Track 24 “He was my father” (a wonderful piece!)

It was difficult to find a live version of some tracks of the soundtrack. The following version is not the best, but I still like to see soundtracks played live, so here it goes:

I found another interesting clip from Mojo on Youtube, so enjoy this, too.

Copyright © Stefan Riedlinger, 2015, all rights reserved. The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Stefan Riedlinger.

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