The recent motion picture version of Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein hews closely to the plot of the novel while failing to capture its essential purpose. The full title of the movie is Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, but the possessive does not mean that this version can be considered Mary Shelley's vision. Janet Maslin of the New York Times notes this when she writes that the film
will not strike anyone as chiefly Mary Shelley's invention. Its principal architect is Kenneth
Branagh. . . [who] takes on the godlike, idealistic young scientist's role while also directing this "Frankenstein" as an overheated romantic fable (Maslin C1).
An examination of the book and the film shows where the attitudes of the creators of each clearly diverge.
The story of Frankenstein as told in this film is in certain ways closer to the book by Mary Shelley than earlier film adaptations as far as the details of the plot are concerned. The narrative by Shelley begins and ends in the frozen wastes of the Arctic, for instance, and the film includes this framing device. The film also includes some of the details of Victor Frankenstein's childhood, especially his developing relationship with Elizabeth. The primary difference in plot between the book and the film at this point is in the character of Henry Clerval, his boyhood friend from whom he is separated when he goes to the university. In the film version, he meets Henry at the university.
It is not in the details of the plot that the book and the film diverge to the greatest degree. Rather, it is in terms of the way the material is treated. Shelley's novel is not merely a horror story but is also a philosophical novel which develops a number of themes related to the virtues of nature, a Romantic era notion, and the relationship of man to God. These themes are paid some lip-service in the film, but they are not central. The film tends toward the shock value of certain images ...