Victor Frankenstein: How Max Landis Adapted the Classic Monster Story

Victor Frankenstein James McAvoy Daniel Radcliffe

The latest adaptation of Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein may take its title solely from the obsessive scientist of the book, but Victor Frankenstein is actually a two-hander focusing on the partnership between Victor (James McAvoy) and Igor (Daniel Radcliffe), a hunchbacked young man who lives a humble life as a circus clown until Dr. Frankenstein meets him, cures him, and enlists his help in a series of experiments that will push the boundaries of science into dangerous and possibly immoral territory.

Directed by Paul McGuigan (Sherlock), Victor Frankenstein is styled as a unique take on the classic tale that blends the original source material with bits and pieces of the mythology that have built up around Frankenstein with each new adaptation - the most obvious of which is Igor, who was not in the book. The screenplay was written by Max Landis (American Ultra) and the film was shot in various UK locations last year. Screen Rant was fortunate enough to be present for a day of filming at Shepperton Studios, and as we watched the scene of Victor and Igor's first meeting taking form, we also got a chance to learn more about the movie.

"Max [Landis] is the original mad genius on this project," explained executive producer Derek Dauchy. "I think what Max was trying to originally accomplish was a Frankenstein unlike any you’ve seen before." McAvoy's version of the character has been described by the actor himself as "a user," "selfish," and "an egomaniac" with a "myriad of personality disorders," but Dauchy said that it's not clear whether Victor is a mad scientist, or just a misunderstood one.

Victor Frankenstein is set in 1860, as the world is in the throes of the industrial revolution, but Dauchy described the film as having "a real modernity to it," comparing the spirit of the film to that of The Social Network. Instead of inventing Facebook, Victor and Igor discover a way to bring dead flesh back to life (which is the more diabolical evil? You decide).

James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe on the set of Victor Frankenstein

McGuigan of course, is no stranger to the art of bringing modernity to classic stories, since that was the twist of BBC's Sherlock. Though Victor Frankenstein is a period film, Landis' adaptation was informed by the countless versions of Frankenstein that have gone before it. At this point, acknowledging the history of Frankenstein is an essential part of tackling the story.

"Frankenstein is always appealing to people because it has this story behind it, the idea of rebirth and reanimation of a human. There’s a sense of possibility that something like that could happen, and what would that possibility mean? I think what’s nice about Max Landis’ script is it cherry-picked all the things from that. Not just Mary Shelley’s book, but more importantly the cinematic history...

"It’s a very old-school telling of it in the sense that I’m trying to do as much in the camera as possible, and trying to... pay homage to the things that have gone before but have fun with it. So it’s a bit of an adventure as well."

McGuigan also described Victor Frankenstein as being very "irreverent to the time period," with a defiantly colorful aesthetic, and its portrayal of trapeze artist Lorelei (Jessica Brown Findlay) is part of that irreverence. Lorelei is Igor's best friend and love interest, whose circus career is derailed after a nasty fall and who embarks on a new life at the same time as Igor does. Findlay said that Lorelei is "a liberated woman who knows how she feels [and] knows what she wants," adding that because of her background on the fringes of society Lorelei "can't stand" being put into fancy dresses - and thus, she has no qualms about yelling, running around, getting physical, and many other unladylike things.

Victor Frankenstein - Jessica Brown Findlay as Lorelei

Lorelei, like Igor, isn't in Shelley's novel and it's clear that this isn't going to be one of the most faithful adaptations of Frankenstein ever made. McGuigan admitted that "there’s not a great deal of the original" in it.  Yet the director also said that he and Landis wanted to stay loyal to the themes of the story, and to embrace its spirit of scientific adventure.

"I think sometimes the story gets lost, in Frankenstein. I think people try to make monsters. We’re actually humans making monsters out of humans, making mistakes, and it can be an adventure. I like adventure movies. So we’re kind of melding both those things, and hopefully that’s appealing."

Interestingly, everyone that we spoke to during the making of the film downplayed the role of the actual monster that audiences will be familiar with from Shelley's novel and previous Frankenstein films. The impression we got was that the film is really about Victor and Igor's relationship, and Igor becoming Victor's first great project. But as marketing emerges for the movie, everything from the title to the trailer to the tie-in promotional website has been all about the creature that Igor and Victor create. Perhaps 20th Century Fox decided that a Victorian buddy adventure was a harder sell than the familiar tale of raising the dead.

Landis' breakout screenwriting hit, Chronicle, took the familiar concept of the superhero movie and turned it on its head by gifting superpowers to a group of immature teenagers only interested in using them for pranks and personal gain. It seems as though Victor Frankenstein aspires to do something similar: take a story that almost everyone knows and spin something new out of it. Will Landis and McGuigan's experiment be a success? Will Victor and Igor's experiment end in a murderous rampage? You'll have to see the movie to find out.

Victor Frankenstein releases in theaters on November 25th, 2015. Watch the trailer below.

Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck and Zazie Beetz as Sophie in Joker
Everything In Joker That's Not Real

More in Featured