Perhaps the greatest task a director faces when converting a novel into a movie is giving the audience the same essential message that the the author tried to give his readers. A truly great conversion can convey this meaning more clearly than the original text; using the visual and sound effects given by the the cinema. When James Whale delivered "Frankenstein" in 1931, and later "The Bride of Frankenstein" he provided excellent renderings of the themes that Mary Shelley presented in her original novel.
The designs of the scenes throughout the two movies help to express the evil involved with Frankenstein's design. The movie begins with a funeral. The place where the creator finds his body is a sterotypical cemetary; leafless trees, barren ground, and the dark horizon all give a sense of foreboding death. Every time the sudience sees the tower that the doctor works in there is a vicious storm outside; this is unlike the rest of the scenes in the movie; they are all held in a mild climate. Also the shadows of the actors are emphasized in the tower from the beginning of "Frankenstein" up to when the creature is destroyed.
Symbolic meaning in a movie shows the true creativity of a director. It must be subtle enough so that it does not glaringly impose itself upon the scence, but at the same time allow itself to be recognized within a short section of film. "Frankenstein", strikes this median well. In the graveyard scene a statue of Theos, the incarnation of death, looks down upon Frankenstein and Egor as they walk through the graveyard. The creature would come from the dead. Water seems to represent youth and innocence. Both the girl that is drowned, and the young woman who tends sheep, are near a river when they first see the creature. The black clothes Frankenstein, Egor, and Dr. Pretorious wear are symbolic of the evil in which they are involved. With the beginning of the sequel, mary Shelley stabs her finger with her needle, after her husband talks about his wife's "delicate hands".
Probably the most used symbols are those that relate to God. These are representative of the theme of the book, that man should leave the creation of life to God. In the cemetary scene there are crosses and a statuette of Jesus Christ. The body that Frankenstein chooses is one that has been hung on a cross. When the creature is locked in Frankenstein's dungeon he reaches up for one stray ray of light that is able to pierce the ceiling. This seems to be symbolic of the creature asking pity from above. However, the scene that provokes the most meaning is when the creature wanders through a forest and finds solace with a blind monk. The monk is a true representation of the qualities of God. He is blind, so it is impossible for him to descriminate by the outward appearance of a man. He can instead only judge a person by his soul. His house, like God's kingdom, is open to everyone.
Also, in Christianity, like many religions, has a prophet who has to go a time alone, lost until he finds sanctuary with the pity of God. After this meeting the creature carries out his duty as a prophet. He goes back to the tower of his birth and destroys the equipment that made him, Dr. Pretorious, (who had the will and knowledge to create life), and finally himself. There is also a symbolic quality in the creature's last sentence, "You are meant to live and we are meant to die", for it once again represents the creature's knowledge and understanding given to him by God.
The Frankenstein movies make good use of camera shots to add melodrama. Whenever anyone in either of the movies has something important to say, whether it be when Frankenstein states his intent to build a creature or when Dr. Velven states Fankenstien's interest only in the human body, the camera shot is always taken directly in the person's face. There are cinematic touches again when Elizabeth tries to enter her fiancee's tower: the camera moves slowly up from her to the silhouette of the creature. This helps to give him a mysterious aurua. Another is when the doctor brings his creation to life: the camera first focuses on the creature's hands. When the creature is locked in prison, the emphasis is once again on his hands as he tries to reach for the stray of light that invades the darkness. In the second movie there is an emphasis placed on the religious tones in the monk's cottage; this is achieved through taking much of the film in the cottage with the cross in the background and fading out on it with the end of the scene. However, the camera shot that has the greatest meaning is the first shot of the creation's face. This shot gives the clearest reason why man should not create life. It is taken suddenly, straight into the creature's face; this is so the surprised audience can see that the creation's skin is an unhumanlike white, its mouth crooked, its nose at an odd angle, and its eyes looking up dully. Though this creation is grotesque, it extracts a true feeling of pity. This sense of pity gives "Frankenstein" true individuality from other horror movies in that its "monster" has more than the one dimension other movies of the genre usually have. In doing so it gives the audience an idea of what it is like to be the odd one, with its pain and suffering, misunderstanding and aberration, that is so easily conveyed with a few seconds of film.
Social commentary is much like symbolic meaning; it must be handled delicately. An example of this is the village townsfolk that live near Frankenstein's tower. They are quick to go after the creature even though he has done done nothing to them, and more importantly, they go as an angry mindless mob. The director is trying to show how humanity can easily go be an animal, using only its instincts. But the best instance of this is when Frankenstein sees the people Dr. Petrovius has grown. They are no taller than five inches, and when a little king escapes from a jar he places him back and says, "even royal animals can be a nuisance." This is meant to express how small and powerles humanity can be.
"Frankenstein" as well as "The Bride of Frankenstein" are both excellent renditions of the original novel. through the use of added inflection they carry the message of the novel. Because of the characters and plot it would be easy for an audience to pass it over as another horror flick; but it instead helps us to understand the pain and suffering of a poor misshapen individual, and his eventual solace and understanding when his spiritual creator aids him.