The 1931 “Frankenstein” is excellent, given the time period it was made in. There is a problem: the monster.
In the original, the monster is well-spoken. It has a sophisticated knowledge of itself and the world it lives in. Before Victor Frankenstein dies in the novel (spoiler alert) he warns his friend, a ship captain, not to be fooled by the monster’s genteel speech.
In the 1931 movie, on the other hand, the monster is a dumb and evil creature, no tension regarding the monster’s apparent humanity. This was a necessary choice. The movie is, well, a movie. It’s a tight 70 minutes.
I’ll go so far here as to suggest a short movie may not be a great way to explore questions about science, parenting, humanity, masculinity, nature, the sublime and the legacy of the French revolution. These things may be undermined by trying to make something visually “real,” trying to show us a village in the Bavarian Alps, or a castle. This reality encloses the frontiers of our imagination.
Let me try a different example of what I’m thinking about. In video games, it’s very hard to convince me, the player, that the boss I just killed is meant to be a god. Skyrim’s Alduin is meant to be an eschatological deity, a mighty harbinger of the end times, but I’ve fought him too many times.
I’ve seen his weird flight patterns, I’ve seen all his attacks. It can’t surprise me. Alduin is, at the end of the day, just a dragon puppet on digital strings. Alduin has become too “real.” I know “where” he is. I know how to find him and fight him. I’ve seen every behavior he is capable of. How am I meant to be in awe of this exactly?
It’s the game “Dark Souls” which handles this “reality” problem the best. This is not a coincidence. Wikipedia tells us lead designer Miyazaki remembers reading books he couldn’t understand and used illustrations and imagination to fill in the blanks. The lore of “Dark Souls” is not really shown in game. It’s mostly talked about. This means the game taps into our imaginations to make up for our technological limitations.
The world of “Dark Souls” is rotten and in decline. We see mostly the rotten leavings of what could have been or what was. The odd wooden behavior of video game creatures is accounted for. This fits; it’s just a video game after all.