Mary Shelly originally wrote ‘Frankenstein’ in 1816. Since then, it has been re-written many times by authors such as Spike Milligan. It has also been released twice as a film. I am going to compare the opening scenes of the two ‘Frankenstein’ films, looking at all aspects of film making used; use of camera, sound, editing lighting and colour and mise en scene.
James Whale’s ‘Frankenstein’ was released in 1931, and was made by Universal Studios. Hollywood was new and young, but was said to be going through its ‘golden age’, as everything was very new and impressive to the 1930’s audience. James Whale was British born, and had a history of working in theatre when he created the film. It starred Boris Karloff, whose career was based on the success of the film. It is very different to the next adaptation of the book:Order now
Kenneth Branagh’s ‘Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein’ was released in 1994, and made by Columbia. Branagh directed the film, and also starred as ‘Dr. Frankenstein’, alongside leading actor Robert DeNiro. Branagh is British born, and has a distinguished background in theatre. He is especially famous for adapting Shakespeare’s plays.
In the opening scene of James Whale’s ‘Frankenstein’ the director uses different aspects of film making to create a mood of horror, which sets the audience up for the rest of the film. He uses various sounds in the first scene, though they are all used to create a feel of foreboding, and almost suspense. The first sound the audience hears is a priest reciting a prayer. His voice is solemn, so we know he must be at a funeral. This creates an uneasy feel as the director brings up the lifelong fear that is ‘death’. We can also hear a steady bell, which almost hypnotises the audience into the beat, but also reminds us of a death knell, along with the funeral image.
The next sound we hear is Dr. Frankenstein and Fritz talking in hushed voices, and the sounds of them digging up the grave. This may create horror in the audience, as they may feel that he is acting against God, a feeling that re-occurs throughout the film. In this first scene, there is only digetic sound used to create a more realistic atmosphere.
The editing used in the first scene is only straight cuts. These make the action feel more natural, but were probably used because the film making technology in the 1930’s was very basic. I counted only seventeen edits in the whole of the first scene.
This scene is quite dimly lit, so the audience have the uneasy feeling that someone may be lurking in the shadows where they cannot be seen. Also the use of shadow on Fritz’s face accents his sunken eyes and strange face.
The make up and clothes used in this scene play an important part in alarming the audience. Fritz’s exaggerated alien-like make up frightens the audience, as his face looks unnatural and hideous. The scenery generates an eerie atmosphere, as it takes place in a dark misty graveyard. The gestures the actors use add to the terror, from the crying people attending the funeral, to the threatening, villain-like movements of Dr. Frankenstein.
In the opening scene of Kenneth Branagh’s ‘Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein’ the director creates a mood of adventure, as the sweeps across the rows of men working on the ship, lead by a brave, strong explorer. However, as Dr. Frankenstein enters the scene, the mood changes to panic, as he dramatically starts to tell his terrifying life story, and ‘the Monster’ is introduced. There is a lot of non digetic sound ie, that only heard by the audience, there is nearly always music in the background. He uses dramatic music to build up the drama, and also punctuates the acting.
The editing is mainly straight cuts, but which are often jumpy, for example when the dogs are being caught. This causes the audience to feel anxious, and also builds tension. The opening scene is very fast, I counted fifty-seven edits, and this builds up the pace of the film. Although Whale’s version lacks the added bonus of colour, I think that use of digetic sound is much more affective, as he creates a real sense of horror using just the different digetic sounds. However, I think Branagh’s use of non-digetic sound is very affective, as he creates a good sense of tension, which is built up using music. Finally, I think that although the scenery is not very clear in Whale’s version, the use of sounds to describe what is around the actors for example, the funeral bell, the dog barking makes up for the indistinguishable background. Branagh’s version lacks in these descriptive sounds as the audience can clearly see the location, but I think it is a shame these sounds are missing.