Did the world really need another film version of Frankenstein? The box office figures for I, Frankenstein (whose best review, from Time magazine, described it as ‘definitely watchable a few months from now on your iPad’) would suggest not. In its opening weekend in the US, it took a feeble $8.3m. An impartial observer might note that the last big-budget adaptation — starring Robert De Niro as the non-titular monster — wasn’t much cop either.
Perhaps it is simply the case that since films of Frankenstein have been made now for over 100 years, audiences might just not need to see it again. I have always worked on the premise that if Mel Brooks has parodied a genre, everyone else should leave it alone (I can barely hear the word ‘Frankenstein’ without thinking of Cloris Leachman bellowing, ‘He voss my boyfriend!’).
Admittedly, the book itself is a remake of sorts, hence its subtitle: The Modern Prometheus. But Mary Shelley cleverly waited a couple of millennia after Aeschylus’ big-budget production of Prometheus Bound before she reworked the story (ditching the eagle-eating-liver-every-day segment, which felt rather dated by then). She didn’t simply rehash a couple Keats sonnets from the previous year, and think that would do.
Surely the time has come for our film and TV producers to acknowledge that even those of us who consume pop culture like liver-starved eagles are worn out by remakes and reboots. At least the gap between the De Niro Frankenstein and the current one was a positively languid 20 years. The interval between Bryan Singer’s awful Superman Returns and Zack Snyder’s dismal Man of Steel was only five years. And you could practically see a baton pass between Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield, as one Spiderman morphed into the next.
Obviously, there is a lower financial risk in remaking a known product — book, TV show, film — than striking out for something new. No-one was likely to lose money adapting books with an enormous fanbase, like The Hunger Games or Harry Potter, for a film audience. But it is becoming increasingly hard to summon up any enthusiasm for the cinema once the annual parade of Oscar-worthies have passed through.
Even if you like a superhero or monster movie, and I often do, we’re nearing saturation point. I want to be excited that there’s a new Godzilla movie out this summer, but it only feels like twenty minutes since I watched the last one. And with another acre of Middle Earth appearing on the big screen every December, I’ve long lost interest in hobbits.
Even Alan Moore, the comic-book writer behind cult hits like Watchmen and V for Vendetta, suggested last week that our current obsession with 20th century pop culture was a problem: ‘I would also observe that it is, potentially, culturally catastrophic to have the ephemera of a previous century squatting possessively on the cultural stage and refusing to allow this surely unprecedented era to develop a culture of its own, relevant and sufficient to its times.’
Moore has hit upon the truth precisely: while film-makers continue to remake remakes, we’re being deprived of a contemporary, nuanced vision of our lives. The Hunger Games has owned the box office for last couple of years for plenty of reasons — a huge marketing campaign, an enormously likeable star, and a vast audience in place who had read and loved the books, just for a start. But they also thrive because they tap into a contemporary mood: the idea that the old are at war with the young, and that the young need to band together and fight back if they are to have any hope of a future.
No wonder teenagers have flocked to the cinema to see these films, and no wonder they’re staying away from I, Frankenstein. Although there is a new Frankenstein movie due out next year, starring teen-nip Daniel Radcliffe, so I may have spoken too soon.
For people like me, who sleep with foil round our heads and refuse to give our flight details to the shop assistant at Heathrow, because miniature shampoos do not need to be tracked like endangered seals, the news that government spies have been sneaking information out of phone apps such as Angry Birds comes as no surprise whatsoever. Not only are you hurling a virtual pig at a fictional bird for fun (it may be the other way round. I’m not as young as I was), but you are handing your personal information over as you do it.
And plenty of apps contain far more personal information than one with avian rage at its core: age, sexual orientation and location have all been picked up by government agencies. You may have nothing to hide, but their surreptitious behaviour proves they do. Surely we need to start withholding information from companies who don’t need it.