I, FRANKENSTEIN EXCLUSIVE Interview With Writer/Director Stuart Beattie
I, Frankenstein promises a take on Mary Shelley's classic character that - like the graphic novel from Kevin Grevioux - promises to be different from any that has preceded it. In this exclusive interview, writer/director Stuart Beattie discusses the making of the film.
He refers to the lead character of Adam (a.k.a. Frankenstein's monster) as a creature in evolution, and the same could probably be said for debuting director Stuart Beattie (though perhaps the word "creature" should be altered). Previously known as the screenwriter of such films as 30 Days of Night, Punisher: War Zone (which he did a rewrite of), G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra and Tomorrow, When the War Began, he shifts from strictly writing to helming as well with I, Frankenstein.
Based on the graphic novel by Kevin Grevioux, it brings the character of Frankenstein's monster (Aaron Eckhart) to the present day world and tracks his own evolution from, as Beattie describes, "monster to man" as, despite his intentions, he finds himself as humanity's only defense in a war between gargoyles and demons. The film opens tomorrow, January 24th. In the following exclusive interview, Beattie shares his approach to the film.
VOICES FROM KRYPTON: I think of Frankenstein, I think, "Fire bad!" How difficult is it to turn Frankenstein into modern-day action hero?
STUART BEATTIE: It's REALLY hard, because everyone has their own preconception of what Frankenstein is and they're all different. A lot of them are influenced by the Hammer films, which are classic and I love as much as the next person. That's just a big part of the marketing campaign, to show that this is a different kind of Frankenstein. I've really gone back to the source, back to Mary Shelley, and said, "Okay, this is going to be a movie set in the world of Mary Shelley and it's going to be real. And everything's going to feel very real." Everything kind of came from that; it's a corpse that's all in one piece. I'm not stitching legs together. If I was going to reanimate, I'd reanimate a whole corpse. I'd replace organs. That's where the dozen used parts from eight different corpses comes from to me -it's internal organs. And I'd pick a good-looking corpse. Again, it really came from me wanting to treat it absolutely real as though it really happened. How did it happen? Why did it happen? No green skin, no eight-feet tall. There's plenty of scarring, but it's not on a Robert DeNiro level. It's obviously much more than the Hammer Films, because it's trying to make it real.
VOICES FROM KRYPTON: Since he's 200 years old in the film, in your mind what has been the character's evolution?
STUART BEATTIE: That's precisely the point: he's just gotten harder and more monstrous. If you think of the one thing that that character wanted in Mary Shelley's novel, was a companion. He wants love. That's what makes him so tragic; that's all he wants is love, someone to share his life with. Well the only person he can do that with is Victor Frankenstein, and at the end of the book, and hence the beginning of the movie, Victor Frankenstein is dead. So that dream is dead. And on top of that you're cursed with not knowing how long you'll be alive. You're made in a lab, you're the only one of your kind, there's no rule book saying when you're going to die. You just keep going with no light at the end of the tunnel. And you are doomed to be alone, because there is literally no one like you and no one to make someone like you. That's to me, what really makes him a monster. Because he turns into a nasty son of a bitch; a selfish, uncaring, "leave me alone; I don't care about mankind, I don't care about gargoyles."So by the time we meet him 200 years later he really has become this hardened son of a bitch. And the whole point of the story is for him to find his humanity, for him to earn his soul, to commit himself to a higher purpose, to give up the one thing that he wants in order to protect mankind. And in doing so become human. That's exactly the point of the whole story.
VOICES FROM KRYPTON: Oftentimes when you have a character walking around with immortality, there's an enlightenment that comes to them. But that's not the situation in this case.
STUART BEATTIE: It's not, because he's been in isolation. He hates mankind, doesn't want anything to do with mankind, so he hasn't met anyone, he hasn't learned anything from anyone. All he's done is grow more angry, more bitter, about what was done to him. To me it's a great starting place for a character, because he's a monster but you understand WHY he's a monster. His father tried to kill him, everyone else has run him out of every village and being generally nasty to him. You get why he is the way he is, and you want him to be better; you want him to earn his humanity. That's the journey he's on.
VOICES FROM KRYPTON: The sympathy for that character has been there right from the original novel, through all the incarnations.
STUART BEATTIE: Everyone knows what it's like to feel like that creature. Everyone knows what it's like to feel alone. Everyone knows what it's like to think that there's no one out there for them. It's such a great, relatable character trait. It's why I took the job, because it was a chance to do a character-driven action movie. If you start to erode the character, you can't call it Frankenstein anymore. That was the whole reason I took the job. I believe character CAN co-exist with action; that the two actually work really well together. The idea is that he's offered at the beginning this chance to help the Gargoyles save mankind and he turns them down. His whole journey is one of coming back to that question and giving up the one thing he wants in order to do it. That's the best of what makes us human, when we answer the higher calling to be something bigger than ourselves. That's what makes us the best of who we are.
VOICES FROM KRYPTON: Obviously all of this character discussion is fascinating, but it's sold as SUCH an action movie. How hard is to do what you said, which is to hold on to this character amidst of all of this stuff going on?
STUART BEATTIE: Yeah, really fucking hard! [both laugh] Endless fights protecting the character all the way through. Look, it's not deliberate. It's not like people are TRYING to make a crappy film or TRYING to whittle away the character, it's just easier. It's easier if you don't have to deal with this stuff. I just kept at it. I kept fighting and saying, "You start to take that away, you can't call it Frankenstein anymore." It's a real battle, but it's really why I took the job because I knew I would win these fights in the end. It took three pitches for them to hire me, and each pitch was the same thing: it's about a monster who becomes a man. And they kept passing, until finally they said, "It's an action movie," and I said, "Yeah, it's an action movie about a monster who becomes a man." That's when they said, "Oh, okay." The fact that three years later it's STILL a movie about a monster who becomes a man, it's one of the things I'm happiest about the film.
VOICES FROM KRYPTON: You should be. Look back at the original DIE HARD...
STUART BEATTIE: My God, yes!
VOICES FROM KRYPTON: Cool action movie, but, my God, is he not a human character in that movie.
STUART BEATTIE: The first fifteen minutes there's NOTHING but character. In fact, I know people who have stopped watching it and say, "You said it was an action movie." "How far did you get in to it?" "About fifteen minutes." Oh, come on! That's the great stuff. That's what makes that film work; you're exactly right. I believe in that whole-heartedly. You've got to care. You've got to put the time in, you've got to invest. It's not done very much these days. None of the action or effects works without his really powerful, human story driving it. We had like nine weeks to shoot, we had $36 million to shoot it with. We didn't have the big, fun toys you get with the bigger films to fall back on. Again, it was another good argument to have good characters. If you look at the plot of I, FRANKENSTEIN, there's no real plot in there; it's just a series of choices that the characters make. The story would end if the characters didn't make those choices.
VOICES FROM KRYPTON: Would you say that was the most challenging aspect, or was the physical production really challenging?
STUART BEATTIE: God, it was ALL a challenge. Getting a film of this ambition done in amount of time we had with the money we had was really difficult. We were doing 33 set ups a day through the shoot. We were flying through it. It's only because we had such great actors that we got through it. The challenges were all over the place, particularly in the shooting of it, by then I'd already kind of won the battle for keeping the Frankenstein character the way it was intended. I mean, we never would have gotten Aaron Eckhardt if it had been a crappy character. The first year was all about keeping the Frankenstein character alive, the second year was all about physically making the film and all the challenges of that. The third year was finishing it all up and doing all of the IMAX and 3D. Just giving people a reason to get out of their homes and see it on the big screen For the IMAX adaptation we went back to the original 4K negative, we took the tops and bottoms of the frame and put them back into the films, erased the boom mikes and cameras and really kind of gave you a whole other third of the movie that you wouldn't seen in a regular movie. It's a really great 3D conversion by the guys who did GRAVITY.
VOICES FROM KRYPTON: I suppose in year four you just collapsed in a corner somewhere?
STUART BEATTIE: That's EXACTLY right [laughs]
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