Frankenstein appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. This was a pretty terrific presentation.
For the most part, sharpness seemed fine. Some wider shots tended to be a little soft, but those never created substantial concerns. I felt the film usually exhibited acceptable to good delineation. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and I noticed no edge enhancement.
Blacks appeared quite nice. Those tones showed solid depth, and shadows also exhibited positive clarity. Contrast looked positive as well, and the image essentially lacked print flaws. I saw a speck or two as well as a few light scratches, but that was about it, and the movie came with appropriate – but not oppressive – levels of grain. This was an outstanding representation of the film.
I felt the DTS-HD MA monaural soundtrack of Frankenstein largely matched age-related expectations. Background noise was the main distraction, as that factor cropped up throughout the film. However, this didn’t become a problem, as the noise was appropriate for a movie from the early 1930s.
Speech tended to sound somewhat metallic, but little edginess appeared, and the lines remained perfectly intelligible. No score appeared during the film; we heard music at the start and at the end and that's it, so I didn’t have the grounds to rate that side of things.
Like the dialogue, effects veered toward the bright, slightly shrill side of the street, but they also remained fine given their age. To be sure, this wasn’t an impressive track, but it seemed better than average for its era.
How did the Blu-ray compare to the 2006 “75th Anniversary” DVD? Audio was a bit more distinctive, while visuals were substantially improved. The Blu-ray looked better defined and much cleaner, with richer blacks and smoother contrast. The Blu-ray became a much stronger image.
The Blu-ray replicates the prior release’s extras, and these start with two separate audio commentaries. The first comes from film historian Rudy Behlmer, who offers a running affair. Really, this track seems less like a traditional "screen specific" track and more closely resembles an audio essay. Behlmer thoroughly covers the history of the story and other productions - both on stage and on film – of Frankenstein that preceded this movie.
Behlmer discusses the ways these versions of the tale influenced the picture and really lets us know a lot about that aspect of the film. Behlmer also provides useful tidbits about the actors and other background information on the shooting of the film, such as details about censorship. It's a terrific piece that added a lot to my appreciation of Frankenstein.
For the second track, we get a running, screen-specific piece from film historian Sir Christopher Frayling. He tends to cover the same sorts of topics addressed by Behlmer in the first commentary. Because of that, a fair amount of repetition occurs; we hear quite a few of the same notes twice. However, Frayling spices things up to a reasonable degree, so I think both are worth a listen. Frayling certainly offers a good commentary; though I’m not wild about all the repetition, this becomes an informative piece.
More info appears in Monster Tracks, a subtitle commentary. It covers basic facts about the film’s production and its various participants. Given all the info that appeared during the two audio commentaries, it becomes inevitable that quite a bit of redundant material appears. Nonetheless, “Monster Tracks” covers the movie in a satisfying manner and creates a good synopsis.
A documentary called Karloff: The Gentle Monster follows. This 37-minute and 58-second show includes remarks from Frayling, biographer Gregory William Mank, producer Richard Gordon, screenwriter/film historian Steve Haberman, director Joe Dante, author/editor Stephen Jones, author/screenwriter Peter Atkins, author/film critic Kim Newman, screenwriter Christopher Wicking, film historian/author Darryl Jones, and author Ramsey Campbell.
Rather than create a standard biography of Karloff, “Monster” essentially starts with Frankenstein and follows his career after that. This seems a little unsatisfying, as I’d prefer a more complete examination of the actor’s life. The show also tends to simply praise Karloff’s work rather than provide concrete info about him. Nonetheless, we get some good glimpses of his post-Frankenstein career, so the program is worth a look.
Next we get a 44-minute and 53-second documentary called The Frankenstein Files. Created and hosted by film historian David J. Skal, this piece offers a comprehensive and broad look at the film's history, creation and legacy. It includes notes from Behlmer, Gordon, Mank, Boris Karloff’s daughter Sara, film historians Donald F. Glut, Paul M. Jensen, Ivan Butler and Bob Madison, makeup artist Rick Baker, Universal Studios Archives and Collections director Jan-Christopher Horak, Gods and Monsters writer/director Bill Condon, and actor’s son Dwight D. Frye.
The program covers much of the territory from the commentaries but looks at it from different angles and remains fresh. Really, the only fault I found - other than wishing the show were longer – comes from the discussion of the film's legacy; it remains firmly rooted toward properties owned by Universal, so it completely ignores movies like the 1994 Frankenstein with Robert De Niro and Kenneth Branagh. Despite that, I liked this program; it added a lot to my knowledge of the project and the story.
The Frankenstein Archives offers the usual conglomeration of film posters, lobby cards, and production photos but it does so as a video montage. I like this presentation; it may ultimately be a little more awkward than the usual frame-by-frame access, but it shouldn't be a problem so one can easily fast-forward through the show, and I think the addition of the audio makes it a more dynamic and involving process. The total running time goes for nine minutes, 24 seconds.
Next we find Boo!, a stupidly amusing nine and a half minute short film from 1932. This odd little sucker splices together clips from Frankenstein and the 1922 version of Nosferatu. A narrator adds comments that attempt to make the whole thing humorous, which it is, in a moronic way. I laughed a few times in spite of myself. It's definitely a fun extra – even though it's only sporadically funny - and it makes for a nice addition.
Finally, we get a documentary entitled Universal Horror.
Narrated by Kenneth Branagh, this one-hour, 35-minute and 26-second program includes notes from Skal, Sara Karloff, author Ray Bradbury, collector/historian Forrest Ackerman, art director Ben Carre’s widow Anne, author/screenwriter Gavin Lambert, Dracula script girl’s son Nicholas Webster, biographer James Curtis, film historian George Turner, director Curtis Harrington, screenwriter Curt Siodmak, and actors Nina Foch, James Karen, Carla Laemmle, Gloria Stuart, Fay Wray, Gloria Jean, Lupita Tovar, Turhan Bey, Rose Hobart, and Arianne Ulmer Cipes.
As implied by the title, “Horror” mostly concentrates on the flicks made by Universal in the 1920s and 1930s. In an odd choice, however, it occasionally discusses successful non-Universal films of the era like King Kong. Due to its scope, the discussion of the various movies remains superficial, but the show creates a generally satisfying view of the subject matter. It becomes an enjoyable overview of the “classic” era of horror movies.
Five ads appear in the Trailer Gallery. We get promos for Frankenstein, The Bride of Frankenstein, The Ghost of Frankenstein, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man and House of Frankenstein.
In this nine-minute, 13-second 100 Years of Universal: Restoring the Classics, we hear from Universal Studios Vault Services VP of Image Assets/Preservation Bob O’Neil, Universal Studios Technical Services VP Peter Schade, Kodak Pro-Tek Media Preservation VP of Preservation Services Rick Utley, Universal Studios Digital Services engineer Henry Ball, Universal Studios Technical Services mastering supervisor Phil Defibaugh, Universal Studios Technical Services mastering supervisor Ken Tom, and Universal Studios Technical Services supervising sound editor John Edell. They cover all the procedures used to bring Frankenstein and other movies to Blu-ray. It’s a reasonably informative take on the subject.
Does this set lose anything from the prior Frankenstein release? Yes, though not much. It drops some cast and crew biographies and text production notes.
It's been more than 80 years since Frankenstein hit movie screens, and while it may not shock and terrify audiences like they did back then, it remains a very entertaining and compelling film. The Blu-ray delivers terrific picture and supplements along with era-appropriate audio. This becomes an excellent representation of a classic movie.
Note that Frankenstein can be purchased on its own or as part of an eight-movie box called “Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection”. The package also includes Dracula, The Mummy, The Invisible Man, The Bride of Frankenstein, The Phantom of the Opera, The Wolf Man and The Creature from the Black Lagoon.
To rate this film, visit the DVD review of FRANKENSTEIN