- BD-50 Dual-Layer Disc
- Region Free
- 1080p/AVC MPEG-4
- English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono
- French Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono
- English SDH
- Audio Commentaries
- Short Film
- Trivia Track
- Still Gallery
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Frankenstein (1931) (Blu-ray)
Universal Studios / 1931 / 71 Minutes / Unrated
Street Date: October 02, 2012
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Reviewed by M. Enois Duarte
Sunday, September 30, 2012
This review is part of our extensive coverage of 'Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection.'
One aspect Universal Studios is best remembered and remains highly regarded for is their collection of monster features. Their immense impact and influence in the horror film genre is virtually irrefutable. More than any other movie production company, the studio has left an indelible mark in the cinema of horror, pretty much becoming synonymous with the genre and creating some of the most iconic figures in all the history of film. Who can deny the faces of Dracula, Frankenstein's monster or his Bride are not permanently etched into our collective memories when thinking of a scary movie or every year Halloween season rolls around. Even if you've never watched a single one of these films, you're already familiar with the names of the characters, their haunting images or the actors who portrayed them.
Universal's legacy dates are far back as the silent era when Carl Laemmle first founded the company, initially producing a variety of melodramas, westerns and serials. Thanks to the amazing work done by character actor Lon Chaney, the studio starting making a name for itself with horror hits 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame' (1923) and 'The Phantom of the Opera' (1925). Three years later, Carl passed the business down to his son Carl Laemmle Jr. on his 21st birthday, who quickly went to work on converting future production to include sound. He proved himself to nervous shareholders when the massively expensive war epic 'All Quiet on the Western Front' went on to become an Academy Award winner. It's during these years that company produced many prominent motion pictures which continue to be admired and are affectionately known as Universal Horror.
Later that same year as 'Dracula,' about ten months later to be exact, Universal Studios made history once more, thanks largely to the company's new head of production manager Carl Laemmle Jr., who got the position in 1929 and also served as producer to these horror classics. A young, enthusiastic and aspiring 23-year-old at the time of this production, his love of the genre, especially a love for literature in general as these two movies attest, serves as the reason behind the studio's gamble on now-influential tales of terror and suspense.
Like 'Dracula,' the film would forever change the face of horror and instantly became a cultural phenomenon, cementing Boris Karloff's monster performance as one of the most iconic figures in cinema history. To this day, legendary make-up artist Jack Pierce's work is the most easily recognized and familiar creation, even by those who may have never seen the film before.
Adapted from a play by Peggy Webling and later reworked by five more writers, James Whale's 'Frankenstein' removes many of the philosophical and moral complexities expressed is Mary Shelley's Romantic novel, simplifying the plot to a mad scientist's shocking pursuits for godlike glory. At one point, Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) even yells out his accomplishment with certifiable glee while his hunchbacked assistant Fritz (Dwight Frye) smiles with devoted admiration. The monster, here, also never attains the ability to learn or speak, portrayed more as an uncontrollable giant of murderous rage.
But even with these differences to the novel, Karloff, along with Whale's rather impressive control of the camera, plays the hideously deformed creature as a dejected, frightened thing with a childlike curiosity which has us amazingly sympathizing with him for a short while. Of course, this being one of the greatest creature-features ever created, the monster is something to fear, chased by a mob of torch-wielding citizens to a grand finale inside a burning windmill.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Universal Studios Home Entertainment brings the 'Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection' to Blu-ray in an attractive and elegantly sturdy eight-disc box set. The package is a familiar one which opens much like a book with each shiny page showing poster artwork, a brief entry on the film and disc contents. Those same pages also serve as sleeves for each disc which slide out by placing some slight pressure to the top and bottom, widening the mouth only a little. The inside is smooth and glossy to prevent the discs from scratching.
All eight films are contained on separate Region Free, BD50 discs and found inside one of the pages, respective of the order in which they were theatrically released. The package comes with a 46-page book that features a lengthy essay by Universal Horrors author Tom Weaver, entitled "A Legacy in Horror." The rest is a collection of photos and artwork with interesting blurbs and trivia on each film, the filmmakers, the actors, and on the special effects and make-up work. The side-sliding slipcover is made of a hard cardboard material with beautiful artwork and lightly embossed. At startup, each disc goes straight to a main menu screen with full-motion clips and music playing in the background.
My personal favorite of the entire collection (along with his 'Bride') was also allowed a similarly restoration treatment as 'Dracula.' As we would expect from such extensive efforts to rejuvenate Frankenstein's abomination, the results are simply fantastic. The monster looks his best, sporting a fine cinematic layer of grain, spot-on contrast with crisp, clean whites and inky rich blacks from beginning to end. Gradational details in the shadows are superb with excellent visibility in the distance. Facial complexions exhibit a natural, lifelike texture while the stitching and fabric of the costumes are well-defined. Despite some inherent softness in the photography, we can plainly see the make-up scars and the wrinkles in the creature's face, and the smallest, pot-mark imperfections on the fiberglass stones in the Court of Miracles are distinct. Overall, this is a splendid AVC-encoded transfer of a horror icon.
Along with the picture, the audio of this classic horror film was also restored and remastered for this DTS-HD MA mono soundtrack, and it's quite enjoyable. We can still hear some hissing and noise in the background, but it only shows the limitations of the source, not a fault in the codec. Engineers did their best to reduce those issues, common with films of this vintage, without hindering the integrity of the original design. Every grunt, yelp, grumble, snort and cry of the monster is perfectly heard with excellent clarity while the dialogue of the cast remains well-prioritized and intelligible. Background activity and effects are clear and discrete, showing a distinct, broad mid-range with a healthy, deep low-end. A couple bits of dialogue (Frankenstein yelling commands to Fritz) are drowned by the loud, cracking sounds of thunder in the early part of the film, but that's always been a well-noted issue of that particular scene, believed forever ruined. Nonetheless, and despite a hint of minor distortion, the lossless mix is fantastic for fans to enjoy.
- Audio Commentaries — Two very enjoyable tracks recorded for a previous DVD release. The first comes from film historian Rudy Behlmer providing loads of insight and history of the production. The second features historian Sir Christopher Frayling doing much of the same while adding a larger cultural perspective. Both are actually great listens for fans, offering a wealth of information and background of the film, its source origins and its lasting impact in the horror genre and cinema in general.
- The Frankenstein Files: How Hollywood Made a Monster (SD, 45 min) — A terrific documentary hosted by film historian David J. Skal, featuring several worthwhile comments and interviews from other filmmakers, historians and relatives of the cast, like Sara Karloff. Most of the discussion traces the progression from Shelley's novel to adaptation, but there's also a great deal to glean about the production, the film's legacy and several interesting behind-the-scene anecdotes.
- Karloff: The Gentle Monster (SD, 38 min) — For fans everywhere, this is a splendid and loving tribute to one of the great legends of horror cinema. Touching on a variety of issues, the short doc features interviews with other celebrities, filmmakers, fans and a few comments from Sara Karloff discussing the man, his career and his work ethics as a thespian.
- Universal Horror (SD, 95 min) — A 1998 documentary narrated by Kenneth Branagh that takes an in-depth and fascinating look at Universal Studios' impact on the horror genre, starting from the Carl Laemmle silent era. Horror fans will already be familiar with the piece, but it's nevertheless a wonderful journey through some of the most memorable films of all time.
- Short Film (SD, 10 min) — A vintage short film from 1932, entitled "Boo!", edited together from other footage to spoof the monster movie.
- Frankenstein Archives (SD) — A collection of poster artwork, marketing stills and other photos from the set.
- Monster Tracks — A trivia track the provides a variety of information concern the film's production.
- Trailers (SD) — Theatrical previews for 'Frankenstein,' 'The Bride of Frankenstein,' 'The Ghost of Frankenstein,' 'Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man' and 'House of Frankenstein.'
This Blu-ray edition of 'Frankenstein (1931)' arrives with one high-def exclusives.
- 100 Years of Universal: Restoring the Classics (HD, 9 min) — A short featurette discussing the studio's plans to restore several classic film in commemoration of the company's 100th anniversary.
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Universal Studios' impact and influence in the cinema of horror is virtually irrefutable, responsible for popularizing the genre and for creating some of the most iconic figures in film history. Their indelible mark is fairly obvious and most felt every year around the Halloween season, and the faces of these monsters are permanently etched into our collective cultural memories when thinking of horror. They are a part of our lives, yet many have probably never even seen these classics all the way through. Now, they can be enjoyed on Blu-ray for the first time in this elegant eight-disc box set, featuring the main creatures often associated with Universal Horror. Each comes with excellent audio and video presentations, bringing these icons of the genre as close as possible to their former glory. And they have never looked as beautiful as they do here. Many of the supplements from previous special edition DVDs are preserved here as well, making this an exhaustive must-own for horror fans and cinephiles everywhere.
You can read more about the complete set and order it here!
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