As waters fail from a lake,
and a river wastes away and dries up,
so mortals lie down and do not rise again;
until the heavens are no more, they will not awake
or be roused out of their sleep.
O that you would hide me in Sheol,
that you would conceal me until your wrath
that you would appoint me a set time, and
If mortals die, will they live again?
Tim Burton transfers Mary Shelly’s famous story into the 21st century in this enjoyable black and white stop-mo
tion film. This time the mad scientist is a schoolboy named Victor (voice of Charlie Tahan) who is in mourning
over the death of his faithful dog Sparky (a very appropriate name). Inspired by his science teacher’s experiment with galvanizing a frog’s legs, Victor quickly comes up with the technique for resurrecting his dog after he digs up the body from the pet cemetery.
All is well for the pair, but then his weird friends try the same experiment, resulting in their town being threatened with destruction. Thus, though Burton pushes further than Mary Shelly did the boundary of the permissible, he too suggests that there are limits to what we could or should do with our technology. Burton’s quirky humor and slightly ghoulish taste make this a pleasant viewing an experience, one that could lead to a discussion of human limitations and responsibility. As I watched Victor exercise god-like powers, I was reminded of one of my favorite sci-fi films, the original version of The Day the Earth Stood Still. When the main character Klaatu was shot and killed, his robot Gort brought him back to life, but as he explains to the heroine, it is just for a brief time. In an interview scriptwriter Edmund H. North explained that the film board insisted that this limitation be inserted into the script, they arguing that only God could resurrect him for good. An interesting contrast between the 1951 culture when church and religion influenced society (in this case through the film board) much more than today.
1. Compare Burton’s film to Shelly’s story. Which parts of it has he carried over?
2. How is Victor an outsider? And yet not quite so much as in other outsider films: what are his friends like?
3. What do you think of the theme of “boundaries which humans ought not to cross” ? How can this be misused? (Such as in genetic research; or in the past, in the development of anethesia to lesson or control pain?) How are the Temptation and Fall and the Tower of Babel stories in Genesis also boundary stories?
4. What are some other boundary films? (Dr. Jekyl & Mr. Hyde; The Fly; The Invisible Man; Jurassic Park…)