Color, 1998, 100 mins.

Written & Directed by Bill Condon

Starring Ian McKellan, Brendan Fraser, Lynn Redgrave, Lolita Davidovich, David Dukes, Kevin J. O'Connor / Produced by Paul Colichman, Gregg Fienberg & Mark R. Harris / Music by Carter Burwell / Cinematography by Stephen M. Katz

Format: DVD - Universal (MSRP $34.98)

Letterboxed (2.35:1) (16x9 enhanced) / Dolby Digital 5.1

As far as early Hollywood directors go, James Whale fared better than most: he produced a number of horror classics (Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, The Old Dark House, Bride of Frankenstein) and directed the definitive version of Showboat as well as a number of skillful intimate dramas. Amazingly, his openly gay status didn't sabotage his career; instead, he chose to gradually step out of the business and retire into Hollywood seclusion. Gods and Monsters, adapted by Bill Condon from the magnificent Christopher Bram biographical novel, Father of Frankenstein, eloquently paints a portrait of Whale as a man coming to terms with his own inner struggles near the end of his life as a neurological disorder causes memories of the past to "wash over" him, as he puts it. This chamber drama is brought to perfection by three wonderful performances by McKellan as Whale, Fraser as his yardman, Boone (a performance for which Fraser hasn't received nearly enough credit), and Redgrave as his doting housekeeper, Hanna.

The loose, semi-linear narrative follows Whale in his twilight days as he finds himself out of the hospital and longing to take up painting. He sees inspritation in the form of Boone, a rugged and somewhat simple man hired to tend the lawn. The two strike up a friendship, and the director regales his friend with tales of his World War I antics and the filming of his classic horror films. In Boone, Whale sees traces of the sympathetic monster which appeared in all of his films, and the two even attend a Hollywood garden party together. However, the psychological tensions seething between the two men threaten to prevent any kind of ultimate understanding between them... or do they?

Filmed in Super 35, Gods and Monsters is presented on DVD in its preferred framing of 2.35:1. The film actually looks much better than the theatrical prints distributed by Lions Gate, allowing this low budget effort to now look like a million bucks. Carter Burwell's restrained, melancholy score benefits greatly from the subtle 5.1 mix, which comes to life mostly during the stylized flashbacks and fantasy sequences (Condon cleverly plays with imagery from Bride of Frankenstein throughout the film). The DVD also includes an excellent "Making of" documentary in which all of the principals discuss their involvement with the film and their various philosophies about its ultimate message(s). No simple studio puff piece, this is an enlightening supplement, though whether it justifies the steep price tag is another story. The film itself, though, is an excellent addition to any movie library; less a horror film than a meditation on the impulses and subliminal images which haunt us throughout our lives and make us feel "different," Gods and Monsters bears repeat visits and attention far beyond the restraints of art house audiences.

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