Frankenstein appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Without question, Frankenstein showed its age, but it nonetheless provided satisfactory visuals.
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 could be a little dense at times, but not in a major way.
As one would expect of an 83-year-old movie, source flaws created the majority of the distractions. Grain was unusually heavy, and occasional print defects appeared. I noticed examples of specks, thin lines, marks and blotches. However, these weren’t constant concerns, and they actually seemed pretty infrequent for a flick of this one’s vintage. When I adjusted my expectations for age, I thought this one merited a “B-“ for picture. It wasn’t attractive enough for anything higher, but it moderately surpassed my expectations.
I felt the monaural soundtrack of Frankenstein largely matched age-related expectations. Background noise was the main distraction, as that factor almost made it sound like it was raining through the film. Nonetheless, those concerns didn’t overwhelm the rest of the mix, and the noise was within the acceptable range for a movie made in the very early days of “talkies”.
Speech tended to sound somewhat metallic and sibilant, but little edginess appeared, and the lines remained perfectly intelligible. They weren’t natural, but they showed acceptable clarity. 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 at least average for its era.
How did the picture and sound of this “75th Anniversary Edition” of Frankenstein compare to those of the original 1999 DVD? Both showed improvements. While the 2006 transfer looked grainier than its predecessor, it also came with many fewer source flaws, and it showed deeper blacks and superior contrast. It wasn’t a night and day difference, but it looked a bit better.
The audio was a more unusual story. On first listen, one might view the noisy 2006 track as inferior, but it doesn’t take much time with the 1999 release to realize its producers went over the edge in their attempts to eliminate all audio flaws. The excessive use of noise reduction methods made the old DVD sound sterile and unnatural. Like it or not, a movie from 1931 will have background noise, and I prefer the noisy but natural 2006 audio to the absurdly quiet 1999 one.
This “75th Anniversary Edition” of Frankenstein offers most of the extras found on the prior DVD as well as some new ones. I’ll mark elements exclusive to this set with an asterisk. If you fail to see a star, then that component already showed up on the old disc.
DVD One starts 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.
DVD One finishes with *Karloff: The Gentle Monster. This 37-minute and 56-second documentary 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.
Over on DVD Two, we begin with a 44-minute and 49-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 in an unusual manner. Normally these would appear as still frames, but in this case, the entire program runs as a video, with pans in and out from different images, and all accompanied by film audio that corresponds to the various pictures. 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.
In addition to a theatrical trailer for a re-issue of the film, 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 16-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.
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 it did back then, it remains a very entertaining and compelling film. The DVD provides perfectly acceptable picture and audio along with a mix of fine extras. I really like this fine DVD.
Should fans who already own the original 1999 DVD “upgrade” to this “75th Anniversary Edition”? Probably, though it’s not a slam dunk. The 2006 disc offers moderately improved picture and audio along with a few interesting new supplements. It’s not so wholly superior to its predecessor to allow me to recommend a repurchase without any reservations, but I think fans will be pleased with it. This release is definitely the way to go for anyone who doesn’t already have the old disc.